Terror management theory and the effects of mortality salience, cultural affirmation, and cultural threat on the evaluation of individuals from similar and dissimilar cultures.
AuthorHasler, Joseph Francis.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis study investigated the tenets of "terror management theory," a theory based primarily upon the writings of Ernest Becker. According to Becker, cultural belief systems are designed to lessen the existential fear and anxiety which result from human beings' conscious awareness of their physical vulnerability and eventual death. If people obey the rules of their culture, they are promised protection from harm and immortality; they are therefore highly motivated to promote and affirm their particular world view. An opposing world view, on the other hand, is perceived as a threat and must be defended against, particularly when physical vulnerability and mortality are made salient. It was therefore hypothesized that a reminder of mortality would cause American subjects to be more attracted to a member of their own culture and less attracted to a person from the middle-east. Additionally, it was expected that bolstering the subjects' world view following a reminder of death would alleviate the aforementioned tendencies, while a direct cultural threat following mortality salience would exacerbate them. Eighty-three American college students served as the subjects for this study. Prior to evaluating two target individuals (one U.S. citizen and one Lebanese citizen), one-half filled out a mortality attitudes survey; the other half did not. Following the mortality salience manipulation, one-third read an interview which highly praised the U.S. political system, one-third read an interview which harshly criticized it, and one-third read a neutral interview which was unrelated to politics. The targets were then evaluated through the Interpersonal Judgment Scale (IJS), a series of trait endorsements, and a social distance scale. Although none of the hypothesized effects emerged and there was no direct support for terror management theory, there were several subtle indicators of prejudice toward the Lebanese target. It was concluded that the validity of the findings was significantly affected by a high degree of suspicion on the part of the subjects, coupled with a general unwillingness to openly express prejudice; this made it difficult to accurately evaluate the plausibility of the theory.