Contemplating Death, Denying Death, and Terror Management Theory
Ȧṅguttara Nikaȳa (Numerical, or “Increasing by Factor” Discourses of the Buddha):
Three divine messengers: sickness, old age, and death
There are five facts, O monks, which ought to be often contemplated upon by everyone – whether man or woman, householder or one gone forth as a monk. What are the five?
“I am sure to become old; I cannot avoid ageing.”
“I am sure to become ill; I cannot avoid illness.”
“I am sure to die; I cannot avoid death.”
“I must be separated and parted from all that is dear and beloved to me.”
“I am the owner of my actions, heir of my actions, actions are the womb (from which I have sprung), actions are my relations, actions are my protection. Whatever actions I do, good or bad, of these I shall become the heir.”
Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski founded the field of Terror Management Theory based on the writings of Ernest Becker. They have conducted over 150 studies in support of the theory, which states that when reminded of their own mortality, test subjects respond aggressively to those who are different and positively to those who are similar.
1. Individuals need to sustain faith in a meaningful worldview.
2. Individuals need to feel as though they are valued, protected members, objects of significance within this worldview. (self-esteem)
If we can sustain these two psychological constructs, we can function relatively securely in the world. If these constructs are threatened, we will feel anxiety and feel the need to defend those constructs.
Mortality Salience Hypothesis: If culture serves a death denying function, then if you remind someone of their death, that should momentarily increase the need for the death denying aspects of their beliefs, and that should be reflected by their reactions to other individuals who either support or undermine those beliefs by being hostile to or different from those beliefs.
Evidence for Terror Management Theory:
Study #1 Municipal court judges in Tucson, AZ. Judges value upholding the law. Half judges given a questionnaire asking about their own death, the other half were not. Then they looked at a court case, the most common case in Tucson, which is solicitation of prostitution.
“Our primary interest was in testing the hypothesis that the judges who were reminded of their mortality by the death-related questions would set an especially high bond for the alleged prostitute. We chose judges for the study because they are rigorously trained to make such decisions rationally and uniformly. Also, we had them pass judgment on an alleged prostitute because it is a crime that violates important moral convictions of most citizens in our culture.”
Recommended bond: Mortality salience: $455; control group: $50.
Study #2 Christian subjects were asked to complete a questionnaire re: how people form impressions of others. Some questionnaires had questions formulated to remind the reader of their own death. Then the subjects were asked to give there impression of two individuals who, on paper, were the same except one was Christian, the other Jewish.
Preference: Mortality salience: Christian; Control: no preference
This shows that attitudes towards others change when reminded of one’s own death. However, this does not demonstrate behavioral changes.
Study #3 Part 1, subjects complete personality questionnaires, some with mortality salience, some without. Part 2, “problem solving,” subjects must sift sand from a jar containing water and black dye. Various items are available to use to strain the mixture, but the only one that will work is an American flag. Second task, hammering a nail into a wall to hang a crucifix, and the only object that will work to hammer the nail is the crucifix.
Subjects primed by mortality salience took twice as long to solve tasks, being reluctant to desecrate their most valued symbols after being reminded of their death.
Study #4 Inspired by real cases of people using hot sauce in an aggressive manner (cook against cops, parents against their kids,) subjects are told the study involves “personality and food preferences.” Subjects fill out bogus personality questionnaires, some containing death reminder. In a supposedly unrelated study, participants were asked to allot a variable amount of extremely hot sauce for a participant of dissimilar political background to taste and rate.
Death reminder: more than twice as much hot sauce as control group.
Study #5 Subliminal Death Prime: (great name for a band) words are flashed faster than the conscious mind can register them. Subjects are looking at a computer screen and must decide if words are similar or dissimilar, which is just an excuse to get them to look at the screen. Either “death” or “field” is flashed in the middle of the exercise at 21 milliseconds, same number of letters and same frequency of occurrence in the English language. Afterwards, participants can’t pick out which word was flashed at them from a list of four choices. Still, those who receive the subliminal death prime show the same hostility towards those who are different and same affection towards those who are the same.
Evidence For Terror Management Theory: I. The Effects of Mortality Salience on Reactions to Those Who Violate or Uphold Cultural Values LINK
Mortality Salience and the Spreading Activation of Worldview-Relevant Constructs: Exploring the Cognitive Architecture of Terror Management LINK
Terror Management Theory and Self-Esteem: Evidence That Increased Self-Esteem Reduces Mortality Salience Effects LINK
An Experimental Test of the Discontinuity Hypothesis: Examining the Effects of Mortality Salience on Nostalgia LINK
Exploring Individual Differences in Reactions to Mortality Salience: Does Attachment Style Regulate Terror Management Mechanisms? LINK
The Security of Obedience: Evidence that Mortality Salience Promotes Conformity to Authority Among Individuals Raised by Authoritarian Parents LINK
Terror Management Theory and Autobiographical Memory: Does Mortality Salience Influence Narrative Content and Structure LINK
MORTALITY SALIENCE AND PREJUDICE AGAINST ARABS: A TERROR MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVE LINK
The Anxiety-Buffering Function of Close Relationships: Evidence That Relationship Commitment Acts as a Terror Management Mechanism LINK
Deliver Us from Evil: The Effects of Mortality Salience and Reminders of 9/11 on Support for President George W. Bush LINK
Running Head: THE EFFECT OF MORTALITY SALIENCE ON SEXISM LINK
MORTALITY SALIENCE, CONSIDERATION OF FUTURE CONSEQUENCES AND BEHAVIOR IN A COMMONS DILEMMA LINK
Mortality Salience and Worldview Defense: The Effect of Death Awareness and Self-Esteem on Multicultural Counseling Competence LINK
TERROR MANAGEMENT AND MARKETING: HE WHO DIES WITH THE MOST TOYS WINS LINK
The Effects of Mortality Salience on the Acceptance of Expert Recommendations: Focused on Doctors’ Recommendations at Hospitals LINK
Terror Management in a Predominantly Muslim Country LINK