A Threat in Itself? Reactions to Terror Management Theory
Rothschild, Lyla Giselle
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Terror Management Theory (TMT) posits that humans use cultural belief systems, or worldvicws, as ways of shielding one's psyche from the anxiety otherwise wrought by thoughts of death. Study 1 aimed to test whether people would be threatened by learning about TMT itself after mortality had been made salient or not. Participants completed an online survey in which they were either reminded of death by being asked to write about their own mortality (morL:1.lity salience (MS) condition) or reminded of uncertainty by being asked to write about themselves i.n an uncertain situation (control condition). Then, participants read a description of either TMT or Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Participants used a Likert scale to rate the extent to which they liked the theory. Contrary to the hypothesis, there was no interaction between the mortality salience manipulation and the type of theory. However, there was a main effect for theory such that participants self-reported greater disliking for TMT than for Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Study 2 measured death-thought accessibility (DTA) after reading about each theory to detem1ine whether the TMT description itself was bringing up thoughts of death. The exact same procedure was used as was used in Study 1, but this time pat1icipants were not asked to write about death, because only the theories themselves were of interest. Contrary to the hypothesis, there was no difference in DTA whether participants read about TMT or Cognitive Dissonance Theory. However, there was a replication of the main effect as in Study 1; participants gave TMT lower ratings than Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Implications and future directions are discussed.