Terror Management Theory

Like all other life-forms, humans are biologically predisposed towards self-preservation when it comes to reproduction. They are thus uniquely qualified in their ability for representative views, which nurture self-awareness as well as the capacity to think about past actions and contemplate the future. The underlying assumption informing Terror Management Theory (TMT) is that one understands that at some point, death is inevitable and can happen in any instance because of uncontrollable factors (Hayes et al., 2010). This awareness provokes potentially devastating terror, managed through the development and preservation of cultural beliefs: people having humanly constructed worldviews about a reality that reduce the existential fear by conferring significance and value (Rutjens et al., 2015).  TMT makes mortality salient or instead of thinking about death can cause individuals anguish, which they overpower by placing more weight on worldviews they find reassuring. On the contrary, making individuals feel about their deaths might radically increase their optimism regarding the future. The principal focus of this paper is to examine the viability of the assertion and determine whether TMT causes distress or increases confidence among people.

Mortality salience (MS) augments the need to guard the idea of human development and therefore, questioning this view escalates the ease of access to death-thoughts. Moreover, improving conviction in growth, shields against impacts emanating from mortality salience (Rutjens et al., 2009).  Kelley and Schmeichel (2015) argue that MS interacts with personal control in a way that stimulates optimism, but it does not apply a significant influence on personal motivation. The absence of significant effects is not in itself a rare happening in TMT. However, mortality salience is not the only factor influencing optimism in individuals.

There is a definite association between thinking about death and distinct differences relating to disgust sensitivity. Disgust might make death a unique threat to human psychology (Kelley et al., 2015). Besides, the threat posed to the human mind is real as TMT argues that cultural worldviews or beliefs avail to individuals as a sense of significance, personal meaning as well as a consciousness of individual mortality (Schimel et al., 2007).  Routledge, Juhl, and Vess (2013) note that MS increases death-anxiety. Nonetheless, this occurs only among folks with a low Personal Need for Structure (PNS) – a model designed to evaluate preferences for clarity and structure in many scenarios, with grey areas and ambiguity proving annoying and troublesome (Thompson et al., 2001). This determination implies that it enhances the understanding of the manner in which PNS shapes people’s struggles to cope with death-related anxieties.

Similarly, Rutjens et al. (2009) conducted three experiments concerning the practicality of acceptance of advancement as an essential concept that guards individuals against the fear of death. It led to the determination that MS intensifies the need to protect the idea of human growth and that interrogating this view augments the accessibility to thoughts of death. These researchers furthermore argue that improving confidence in progress shields this availability and subsequent belief shield reactions from the effects of MS. Their final experiment highlighted that believing in progress can be seen as a sense-providing idea, and closely resembles reminiscence, which protects individuals from concerns relating to mortality by going beyond the present.

MS augments anxiety caused by thinking about death, but this effect is limited to only those with low PNS. In this respect, PNS is reflective of the orientation to a world underlined by existential benefits. Individuals who are inclined to view the world in a lucid, orderly, as well as unambiguous manner may be more inclined towards authoritarianism, fundamentalism, prejudice, and dogmatism (Routledge et al., 2013). However, they are capable of efficiently preventing thoughts concerning death from becoming death fears. These findings provide critical insights into the reasons behind why viewing the world as “black and white” rather than shades of grey may be so enticing during frightening times.  The former relates to entity from an existential point of view (Routledge et al., 2013).

Kelley and Schmeichel (2015) conducted a study aimed at testing the hypothesis suggesting that personal mortality is capable of tuning attention towards valuable information. Doing so helps individuals to handle their consciousness of death. Therefore, people with the more significant characteristic of self-control are especially proficient at constructive tuning under MS. In their findings, the authors of this study surmise that after thinking about death, individuals underlined by greater willpower validate high optimism views about the future. Those with lower self-control, on the other hand, may experience reductions or proliferation in their optimism.  Thus, the latter is more effective in dealing with the threat posed to the mind by the fear of death.

Kelley and Schmeichel (2015) studied TMT and its impacts on MS and perceptions of the future. They note that sensitivity to disgust is a crucial aspect of understanding different reactions to MS, thereby validating the notions that disgust-associated responses guard against psychological as well as physical threats. These findings mainly conclude that apart from probable anxiety caused by death thoughts, the ability to cope with disgust in this regard may be critical regarding how individuals think and conduct themselves in response to death prompt. Understanding the approach to disgust will contribute to the current study by measuring how people perform in relation to death thoughts and exposure to terror, for example, dental pain.

In the same vein, the depressing consciousness represents a bleak perspective of the actuality that notwithstanding all efforts geared toward sublimation, thinking about death and its inevitability cannot be whisked away.  To drive these thoughts and their possibility out of human psychology, they have invented cultural significance systems coupled with multifaceted social organization suggesting that the existence of human beings is a finite phenomenon (Schimel et al., 2007).

From the review of pertinent literature mentioned in this paper, it is apparent that Terror Management Theory describes mortality as a salient aspect of human life. It can cause individuals untold anguish, prompting them to place more weight on worldviews they consider reassuring. Doing so might radically augment their optimism regarding the future. About the overriding purpose of this submission, this research exercise has demonstrated that the destruction of protective beliefs espoused by humans can increase the thoughts concerning death profoundly. When the outright acceptance of cultural reality conceptions are weakened, the worm at the foundation of cultural instructions for happiness is exposed. Towards this end, all cultures worldwide avail to their followers a meaning that life itself is valuable by providing accounts relating to the universe’s origin, remedies for appropriate conduct, and a guarantee for immortality for individuals whose actions are in line with cultural decrees (Rogers et al., 2016). Furthermore, from the evidence adduced by the review, psychological patience concerning death thoughts and the optimism people hold about the future dictates that people must view themselves as individuals with value in a world underlined by meaning (Rogers et al., 2016).  TMT thus facilitates the application of social roles together with related standards. More importantly, self-esteem provides a means through which people can appreciate the importance of meeting or surpassing these measures at a personal level (Kelley & Schmeichel, 2015). It is also important to acknowledge that though cultures differ substantially, they employ similar defensive psychological mechanisms capable of providing meaning as well as value, and by doing so, bestows mental composure despite the possibility of death.

 

Method Study One

Participants

The study included a total of 145 participants from Florida International University (FIU). The participants were selected randomly from the college, and the study considered only students at the college. From the 145 participants, 80 were male (5.2 %), and 65 were female (44.8 %).  The ages of the participants of the study ranged from 12 years to 57 years (M =24, SD = 8.60). The population sample of the participants selected for the study consisted of 52.4 % Hispanic (n = 76), 25.5 % Caucasians (n = 37), 6.2 % African American (n = 9), 3.4 % Native America (n = 5), 4.8% Asian (n = 7), and 7.6 % specified as other (n = 11).

 

Materials and Procedure

In the terror management research, the researchers were allowed to select informants who are students from the Florida International University (FIU).  The first procedure in the research was to obtain consent from the participants of the study. All students of FIU were informed about the study, the procedure, importance, potential risks, and dangers before getting their consent. The students were then asked if they were willing to take part in the study. Those who were willing to participate in the research were asked to sign a written consent to confirm their acceptance.

The students who agreed and signed consent were given one of the study questionnaires randomly. Each participant was guided on how to fill the survey questionnaire prepared for the study. Each of the study questionnaires was divided into two sections that included Part One and Part Two. In the Part one section, the respondents were asked to provide their demographic background information such as age, gender, race, and language.  In part II, participants completed five different tasks. For tasks a and b under this section, the participants filled two open-ended questions which differed depending on the condition.

The two parts were the most important for the survey as they were the manipulation of the independent variable (IV), which was the “Priming Condition.” In fact, each participant got one of the three surveys, which included the Morality Salience (MS), the Dental Pain, and the College condition surveys. In the MS condition, the respondents of the study were asked to answer the two open-ended questions. Both of the questions required the participants to think about their death. In the Dental Pain condition, the informants of the study were asked to answer the two open-ended questions. Both the questions asked the participants about their experience with dental pain. In the College condition, the participants completed two open-ended questions, both of which required them to think about the physical step that they took to get to college. College condition served as a true control group since it does not involve any element of fear or death.

In Task c, the participants completed a 12-item test of word fragments. Here, the participants were given the first few letters of a word and asked to complete the remaining letters. It was possible only to complete 6 out of 12 fragmented statement with neutral words while the other six could be completed using neutral or death-related words. The fragment word was one of the independent variables (IVs) in the study. In other words, it was used to determine how many of the six words completed by the study participants were death related.  After the completion of the questionnaire, the words which were death-related from each of the surveys were counted and recorded. The number ranged from 0 to 6 since the maximum death-related words that could be completed from each survey were 6. In essence, the number of death related words from the participants who filled the MS condition were compared to those of other conditions.

In Task d, the participants read the same passage that was about the human progress. The questions from the passage were asking about the thinking of the participants about death versus dental pain and college and the impacts of their worldviews. The participants then completed ten questions about the passage. All the items under this section were on a scale of 1 to 6 (1 = strongly disagree; 6 = strongly agree). The questions 1 to 8 asked the participants about the ideas expressed in the essay or its author. These questions primarily asked if the participants agree with the essay or the author’s opinions on the essay (1 = Agree with the essay; 6 = Disagree with the essay). The questions are set to overlap by design in that they ask similar questions in different ways. The two questions 9 and 10 were open and general. The last Task e was where the participants were asked to recall what they answered on the first page. The section was just a manipulation of the study to determine if the participants paid attention to the research. The participants were then debriefed about the research and its importance. Additionally, they received some few examples of the results of the study and hypothesis and thanked for taking part.

Results Study One

Using the one IVs and three levels  – Dental Pain (DP), Mortality Salience (MS) and College (C) – and the DVs,  three statistical tests were conducted: Chi-square and 2 one-way ANOVA. Chi-square test was run for analysis of the manipulation check. Based on the analysis of the Chi-square for three independents variables (DP vs. MS vs. C) it was established that the study has a significant effect with X2 (4) = 203.28 , p<.001.

In the Morality Salience (MS), there were 92.0 % death words, Dental Pain (DP) had 91.5 percent death words, and College (C) had 83.3 percent death words. The Chi-square analysis indicated that the manipulation worked. In essence, the participants remembered the conditions that were assigned .  The results indicated that the participants who answered the Mortality Salient survey, is that those who were in the MS condition reported having written about their own death.

Discussion

In the second test, One-Way ANOVA was run with the independent variable that include (MS Vs. DP Vs. C) and the count of death-related words as the dependent variable.  The result of the One–Way ANOVA with the independent variables (MS vs. DP vs. College) and the participants’ agreement with the essay  as the DV was not significant, F  (2,142) = 5. 85,  p=04.  However, to assess the differences in means, Tukey LSD post hoc test was performed. This test showed that MS had the (M =1.21, SD = 1.43) vs DP (M=1.04, SD = 1.53), while C had (M= 0.40 vs SD = 2.66). The result of the second ANOVA indicated that the result was significant with F (2, 142) = 7.942, p<.001. Further Tukey post hoc test was conducted and found that Mortality Salience had (M=0.58 vs SD = 1.64), Dental Pain (DP) had (M = 0.38 vs SD = 2.0), while the College (C) had (M = 0.76 vs SD = 1.77).   This was further confirmation that the findings of the study were significant .

Study Two

Experimental handling of Mortality Salience (MS) illustrates one of broadly applied procedural techniques in psychology, having contributed to fear management studies over the last two decades (Lambert et al., 2014). However, one of the more challenging inferences concerning manipulation of MS point to the fact that it does not generate any dependable transformations in self-reported impact, a perception described as the affect-free assertion. Lambert et al. (2014) appraised 336 available types of research that employed the regular form of MS and proposed that the confirmation on which the assertion of inconsistency in self-reported effects emanates can be less comprehensive than commonly presumed.

Terror management also concerns how individuals attempt to make peace with the inevitable phenomenon of death. Similar to the assessment of Lambert et al. (2015), Kluger (2018) assessed how an individual could find peace with the thought of death. In the view of multiple theorists, death is a pleasant occurrence, at least for a community that strives for creativity. These theorists claim that a person can accomplish more tasks and aspirations when they fix their gaze on the clock, for example, Ernest Becker, in The Denial of Death, refers to mortality as the impetus of high human activity (Kluger, 2018). According to the Psychological Science (2017), positive connections between personal mortality and the perceptions about death when contemplating the welfare of humanity was established. The survey tallied the number of negative and positive statements in blog posts published by the terminally ill persons and compared the results with essays by individuals implored to imagine being near death experiences (Kluger, 2018).

Terror Management Theory (TMT) displays the inspirational influences of views of death in the different continuum of life. From its advent, TMT advancements have experienced a slim but critical change from a limited focus on the handling of beliefs of death to a remarkable surge in researchers that determine the openness of death-associated cognizance (Hayes, Schimel, Faucher, & Arndt, 2010). The volumes of Death-Though Accessibility (DTA) assessments in the available kinds of literature have grown considerably in recent years (Hayes et al., 2010).  Regarding the growing dependence on the DTA theory, Hayes et al. (2010) outline a comprehensive empirical and theoretical assessment of the available literature using this idea. After exploring the causes of DTA, the review highlights the conceptual modifications to TMT that have supported essential research outcomes connected with the DTA. Hayes et al. (2010) derive four particular classifications i.e dispositional, mortality salience, anxiety-buffer risk, and death association which was used in the justification of Death-Through Accessibility.

Other studies have addressed the need to integrate TMT into the research about the appeal of fear. For example, Hunt and Shehryar (2011) have observed that communications about fear appeal have supported the interest of research for more than 50 years. The dominant model controlling the research on fear appeal contends that variations in fear trigger variances in the expressiveness of a meaning. According to Hunt and Shehryar (2011), research founded on the fear viewpoint has generated ambiguous outcomes, failed to determine why terror entreaties can flop, and failed to offer priori descriptions of people who may discard messages of terror appeal. By focusing on the variations between reactions to the fear of death compared to the fear of socially or physically distressing repercussions, TMT provides a corresponding theoretical framework that may overwhelm the limitations of existing research on terror appeal. Hunt and Shehryar (2011) reviewed the existing conceptual techniques to fear appeal studies and summarized the essential elements of TMT. Their findings suggest that integrating TMT into fear justification assessments may enhance both the predictive and explanatory strength of theories addressing terror appeal.

The effects of mortality salience has been a reason to why some motorist may decide not to adhere to traffic rules and regulations. Campaigns, warnings, and arrests related to reckless driving often quote the danger of dying. Studies on TMT highlight that death claims can sometimes fail and promote reckless driving (Ivanov & Vogel, 2017). In their research, Ivanov and Vogel (2017) examined such effects of mortality salience in a sample comprising motorcyclist. The control variables, especially concerning the sample, included driving-related self-respect and group riding. The participants were exposed to safety campaigns, especially concerning the likelihood of mortality. Comparatively, participants were informed of riding in groups. Assessment of driving-related self-respect was conducted using a questionnaire. Ivanov and Vogel (2017) anticipated that cues about group riding would prevent the subtle effects of mortality. In support of this hypothesis, the study realized interaction between the group prime and mortality salience impacts. The research results highlighted that the appeals of death tend to fail with lone cyclists instead of group riding, mainly if the cycling activity is significant to the individual.

A different perspective on the argument that mortality salience enhances a person’s ability to perform better by disregarding terror emerges in the research conducted by Rogers, Vess, Routledge, and Juhl (2016). These authors contend that the concept of mortality salience limits human adventure when an individual experiences metacognitive comfort. The research bases its findings through adherence to cultural values. Rogers et al. (2016) incorporated TMT with studies on metacognitive eloquence to understand how death perceptions affect the motives of exploration. The study theorized that MS would reduce the inspiration to explore unique social connections only when there is some security in the sensation of being appreciated by culturally relevant precepts. The research used 328 respondents who responded to physical pain or death, then produced various cases of past demeanors respected by their peers. The survey expected to foster feelings of security by the current social affiliations. Finally, the research evaluated participants’ aspiration to explore innovative social interactions. Contrary to the hypothesis, the findings highlighted that death thoughts reduced respondents’ drive to explore innovative social connections when they encountered comfort-producing instances of socially esteemed conduct (Rogers et al., 2016).

Still, other studies have identified the possibilities of finding death in vanity. For example, Webber, Zhang, Schimel, and Blatter (2016) provide evidence that DTA increases in reaction to meaning fears. The model highlighting the need to maintain meaning suggests that compromises to a person’s expectations cause subsequent restoration of the reasons to live. In a bid to differentiate maintenance of meaning mechanisms from terror management mechanisms, existing pieces of literature have failed to identify the occurrence of DTA in reply to threats. The study conducted by Webber et al. (2016) proposes that this failure may have developed from procedural differences in the manner that the assessments measured DTA. The first study identified that by replacing the current method with a typical technique adopted when examining self-esteem and worldview fears, DTA grew in reply to two different violations of meaning. Their second research identified increments in DTA among people high in individual demand for structure.

Research on TMT validates that individuals react to cues of death with resistances purposed to uphold their self-respect as well as to defend global cultural perspectives. Numerous studies posit that the ability to remain open to various threatening or comforting experiences should enable people to exhibit receptive perceptions about death, diminishing the requirement to defend worldviews or bolster self-respect, because mortality is an exceptional experience. As observed by Boyd, Morris, and Goldenberg (2017) in their three studies, individual openness controlled responses to MS. People with limited aspects of transparency reacted to MS with increased worldview defense as well as self-esteem issues, and this contributed to the decrease in death-related thoughts. People with high openness failed not display these resistive behaviors. The final study evaluated a likely mechanism for the reduced effects seen among high openness participants; that is, elevated curiosity in reaction to MS tends to lessen worldview defense.

Based on the reviews and analyses presented in this literature review, the research hypothesis is the manipulation of MS produces meaningful and critical transformations in influences. Indeed, death is a good thing when referring to the desire to attain novelty, and manipulation of MS can establish myriad forms of human activity. The checkout time for every person is coming, but death is primarily on the borders of people’s awareness. When prompted of their mortality, individuals tend to hang on their worldviews and respond more warmly to others as well as the ideas or experiences that offer them comfort. However, the allegiance or identity commitment to worldview or group may affect the exploration of other schemes of novelty.

A different perspective on the argument that mortality salience enhances a person’s ability to perform better by disregarding terror emerges in the research conducted by Rogers, Vess, Routledge, and Juhl (2016). These authors contend that the concept of mortality salience limits human adventure when an individual experiences metacognitive comfort. The research bases its findings through adherence to cultural values. Rogers et al. (2016) incorporated TMT with studies on metacognitive eloquence to understand how death perceptions affect the motives of exploration. The study theorized that MS would reduce the inspiration to explore unique social connections only when there is some security in the sensation of being appreciated by culturally relevant precepts. The research used 328 respondents who responded on physical pain or death, then produced various cases of past demeanors respected by their peers. The survey expected to foster feelings of security by the current social affiliations. Finally, the research evaluated participants’ aspiration to explore innovative social interactions. Contrary to the hypothesis, the findings highlighted that death thoughts reduced respondents’ drive to explore innovative social connections when they encountered comfort-producing instances of socially esteemed conduct (Rogers et al., 2016).

Still, other studies have identified the possibilities of finding death in vanity. For example, Webber, Zhang, Schimel, and Blatter (2016) provide evidence that DTA increases in reaction to meaning fears. The model highlighting the need to maintain meaning suggests that compromises to a person’s expectations cause subsequent restoration of the reasons to live. In a bid to differentiate maintenance of meaning mechanisms from terror management mechanisms, existing pieces of literature have failed to identify the occurrence of DTA in reply to threats. The study conducted by Webber et al. (2016) proposes that this failure may have developed from procedural differences in the manner that the assessments measured DTA. The first study identified that by replacing the current method with a typical technique adopted when examining self-esteem and worldview fears, DTA grew in reply to two different violations of meaning. Their second research identified increments in DTA among people high in individual demand for structure.

Research on TMT validates that individuals react to cues of death with resistances purposed to uphold their self-respect as well as to defend global cultural perspectives. Numerous studies posit that the ability to remain open to various threatening or comforting experiences should enable people to exhibit receptive perceptions about death, diminishing the requirement to defend worldviews or bolster self-respect, because mortality is an exceptional experience. As observed by Boyd, Morris, and Goldenberg (2017) in their three studies, individual openness controlled responses to MS. People with limited aspects of transparency reacted to MS with increased worldview defense as well as self-esteem issues, and this contributed to the decrease in death-related thoughts. People with high openness failed not display these resistive behaviors. The final study evaluated a likely mechanism for the reduced effects seen among high openness participants; that is, elevated curiosity in reaction to MS tends to lessen worldview defense. The concluding remarks of Boyd et al. (2017) depict openness as an element enhancing decreased defensiveness regarding mortality salience .

With the addition of Essay Perspective (Optimistic vs Pessimistic) as an independent variable to our study, we have new hypotheses. We anticipate to find a main effect of Essay Perspective. Specifically, we expect that participants will agree more with the optimistic essay compared to the pessimistic essay. We do not anticipate an overall main effect of the Prime Condition. Specifically, we do not expect participants in the Mortality Salience condition and those in the Dental Pain condition to differ in their evaluations of the essays. We do expect to find an interaction between the Prime and Essay Perspective conditions. Participants in the Mortality Salience condition are expected to agree with the Optimistic essay more than those in the Dental Pain condition. Mortality Salience participants, however, will disagree more with the Pessimistic Essay relative to the Dental Pain participants.

 

 

References

Boyd, P., Morris, K. L., & Goldenberg, J. L. (2017). Open to death: A moderating role of openness to experience in terror management. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology71, 117-127.

Hayes, J., Schimel, J., Arndt, J., & Faucher, E. H. (2010). A theoretical and empirical review of the death-thought accessibility concept in terror management research. Psychological Bulletin136(5), 699.

Hunt, D. M., & Shehryar, O. (2011). Integrating terror management theory into fear appeal research. Social and Personality Psychology Compass5(6), 372-382.

Ivanov, I., & Vogel, T. (2017). Mortality salience effects on reckless driving intentions in a motorcyclist sample: The moderating role of group riding. European Journal of Social Psychology47(1), 92-96.

Kluger, J. (2018). How Do I Make Peace With Dying?. Time191(7/8), 75.

Lambert, A. J., Eadeh, F. R., Peak, S. A., Scherer, L. D., Schott, J. P., & Slochower, J. M. (2014). Toward a greater understanding of the emotional dynamics of the mortality salience manipulation: Revisiting the “affect-free” claim of terror management research. Journal of personality and social psychology106(5), 655.

Rogers, R., Vess, M., Routledge, C., & Juhl, J. (2016). Mortality Salience Decreases Social Exploration When People Experience Metacognitive Ease Generating Examples of Cultural Value Adherence. Self and Identity15(1), 62-71.

Webber, D., Zhang, R., Schimel, J., & Blatter, J. (2016). Finding death in meaninglessness: Evidence that death‐thought accessibility increases in response to meaning threats. British journal of social psychology55(1), 144-161.

Burgin, C. J., & Marin, L. L. (n.d.). Deconstructing the mortality salience manipulation: Emotional versus cultural processing. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e514412014-019

Cooper, D., Price, D. N., & Kelly, K. M. (n.d.). Ostracism, Psychological Needs, and Death-Thought Accessibility: A Terror Management Perspective. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e578472006-001

KAREKLAS, I., & MUEHLING, D. D. (2014). Addressing the Texting and Driving Epidemic: Mortality Salience Priming Effects on Attitudes and Behavioral Intentions. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 48(2), 223-250. doi:10.1111/joca.12039

 

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