Date of Award

Summer 2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Ed de St. Aubin

Second Advisor

Matthew Sanders

Third Advisor

Stephen Saunders

Abstract

This study examines both the generalizability of Terror Management Theory (TMT) and the mechanisms by which individual difference variables work in the TMT model. A plethora of research exists to support TMT, a theory that explains much of human behavior as attempts to buffer the potential for anxiety provoked by being aware of one's own inevitable mortality (Pyszczynski et al., 2003). This dissertation investigated the generalizability of Terror Management Theory (TMT) and the mechanisms by which individual difference variables work in the TMT process. In order to do so, an operationalization of the variable "overall worldview" was provided. Participants consisted of 367 college students from the Psychology Department Experimental Subject Pool of a mid-sized Midwestern university. Subjects were quasi-randomly assigned to a 2 (mortality salience vs. control) x 2 (death-thought word stems vs. neutral word stems) between subjects design. Results suggested that humanists defended humanism more in the mortality salience condition than in the dental pain condition. However, mortality salience did not increase the defense of the normative worldview for normatives. Contrary to expectations, humanists and normatives defended their respective worldviews to an equivalent extent in the mortality salience condition. Mortality salience did not lead to defense of the American worldview for normatives or for humanists. Participants in the mortality salience condition, humanists, and normatives did not differ on the number of accessible death-thoughts in either the mortality salience or the dental pain condition. Despite methodological limitations, this study suggests that, at least for humanists, TMT does generalize beyond specific cultural worldviews to overall worldviews. It also indicates that the individual difference variables of being humanist/non-humanist and normative/non-normative do not affect the ability of mortality salience to prime death-thoughts. Rather, being humanist or non-humanist affects worldview defense after the death-thoughts have been primed and before distal defenses (i.e., worldview defense) are activated.

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