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Mortality salience is a term which describes awareness of one's eventual death.

Potential to cause worldview defenseEdit

Mortality salience has the potential to cause worldview defense, a psychological mechanism which strengthens people's connection with their in-group as a defense mechanism. This can lead to feelings of nationalism and racial bigotry being intensified. Studies also show that mortality salience can also lead people to feel more inclined to punish minor moral transgressions. One such study divided a group of judges into two groups — one which was asked to reflect upon their own mortality, and one group which was not. The judges were then asked to set a bond for an alleged prostitute. The group who had reflected on mortality set an average bond of $455, while the control group's average bond was $50.[1]

Another study found that mortality salience could cause an increase in support for martyrdom and military intervention. Tom Pyszczynski et al. found that students who had reflected on their mortality showed preference towards people who supported martyrdom, and indicated they might consider martyrdom themselves. They also found that especially among students who were politically conservative, mortality salience increased support for military intervention but not among students who were politically liberal.[2]

Self-esteem related to mortality salienceEdit

A research study found that self-esteem can reduce the worldview defense produced by mortality salience. Within the frameworks of this study terror management theory is assessed as well. The article states that “according to terror management theory, increased self-esteem should enhance the functioning of the cultural anxiety buffer and thereby provide protection against death concerns”.[3] Therefore self-esteem should reduce mortality salience effects. The results to this study conclude that self-esteem helps to buffer an individuals anxiety about passing. Experimenters found that individuals with higher self-esteem do not react to mortality salience, while those with moderate self-esteem do. Therefore, their results imply that self-esteem may in fact reduce the effects of mortality salience.[3]

In contrast to Terror Management TheoryEdit

Main article: Terror Management Theory

According to the Terror Management Theory, when human beings begin to contemplate one’s mortality and their vulnerability to death, feelings of terror emerge because of the simple fact that humans want to avoid the inevitable death.[4]

Most research done on terror management theory revolves around the mortality salience paradigm. It has been found that religious individuals as well as religious fundamentalists are less vulnerable to mortality salience manipulations, and so religious believers engage in cultural worldview defense to a lesser extent than nonreligious individuals.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. Pyszczynski, Thomas; Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon (003). In the Wake of 9/11, American Psychological Association.
  2. Pyszczynski, Tom, Abdolhossein Abdollahi, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, Florette Cohen, David Weise (2006). Mortality Salience, Martyrdom, and Military Might: The Great Satan Versus the Axis of Evil. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 32 (4): 525–37.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Harmon-jones, E., Simon, L., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., & McGregor, H. (1997). Terror management theory and self-esteem: Evidence that increased self-esteem reduces mortailty salience effects. Journal of personality and social psychology, 72(1), 24-36. 
  4. Bernard, W., & Kite, M. (2010). The psychology of prejudice and discrimination. (2 ed., pp. 251-254). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 
  5. Rutjens, B., & Wojtkowiak, J. (2011). The postself and terror management theory: reflecting on after death identity buffers existential threat. The international journal of psychology of religion, 21, 137-144. 

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