Terror-Related Negativity: Exploring Mortality Salience-Induced Self-Regulation and its Neurobiological Implementation
AuthorKosloff, Daniel M.
KeywordsError related negativity
Committee ChairGreenberg, Jeff
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractOver 20 years of research on terror management theory has demonstrated that reminders of death (mortality salience; MS) heighten individuals' investment in prioritized bases of value and meaning. Research in this vein has shown that MS intensifies people's efforts to demonstrate personal value on tasks relevant to their self-esteem ("self-esteem striving"). Though much work illustrates that such responses function to mitigate death-related concerns, to date no work has directly assessed the particular regulatory mechanisms that implement MS-induced self-esteem striving. The present study aimed to do so by measuring neural indices of performance monitoring. During a tasked framed as diagnostic of self-esteem relevant attributes, participants were randomly assigned to receive subliminal primes of the word death or of control terms. Response-locked brain signals were recorded to assess reactivity to correct and incorrect responses during the task. Results showed that death-primed (vs. control) participants exhibited greater neural reactivity following error commission as indexed by larger amplitude of the Error Related Negativity (ERN). Death-primed (vs. control) participants also exhibited intensified behavioral efforts to improve their performance following error commission (i.e., post-error slowing, post-error accuracy), effects that were likely mediated by the activity of neural mechanisms that generate the ERN. Furthermore, among death-primed participants, behavioral improvements on the self-esteem relevant task correlated with attenuations in death thought accessibility. Receiving death primes did not influence neural reactivity to correct responses (Correct Related Negativity; CRN) nor did it heighten a neural index of explicit error awareness (Error Positivity; Pe). Together these findings suggest that MS-induced self-esteem striving is implemented via automatic monitoring and avoidance of errors. The role of avoidance motivation in self-esteem striving is thus discussed.