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An antidote to fear: exploring death reflection as a predictor of pro-social values




Canning, Brian A., author
Steger, Michael F., advisor
Dik, Bryan J., committee member
Snodgrass, Jeffrey, committee member

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In over three decades of terror management theory (TMT) research, results have continuously pointed towards one grave lesson: that unchecked fear of death can lead to terrible outcomes both for the self and for the world at large. TMT research has connected mortality salience (MS) manipulations (reminding one of their mortality) to increases in greed, racism, political extremism and a host of other negative outcomes (Greenberg, Schimel, Martens, Solomon, & Pyszcznyski, 2001; Hirschberger et al., 2016; Kasser & Sheldon, 2000). While negative outcomes have been thoroughly outlined in the research, less attention has been given to investigating ways to ameliorate these problematic effects and to reveal healthier, more productive ways to engage with our mortality. The death reflection (DR) manipulation—in which participants actively imagine their simulated death and engage in reflection and perspective taking—has shown promise in bridging this gap (Cozzolino et al., 2004). The research on this manipulation and corresponding theory is at this juncture minimal, and further development is needed. Study 1 sought to replicate Cozzolino et al's findings from their (2004) study, where DR was found to produce significantly less greedy behavior when compared to MS. This study was not able to find significant effects, despite having a larger sample than the original study. The findings of this study generate questions about the effects of MS and DR manipulations, which are explored in detail. Study 2 sought to test for changes in values from the DR manipulation through a new Emergent Values Measure (EVM) protocol that used free listing and sorting methodologies. This study was unable to demonstrate a strong statistical relationship between that measure and the Aspirations Index (AI), which impeded further comparison and analysis. The data for these studies is explored, and implications for future research are detailed.


2020 Spring.
Includes bibliographical references.

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post-traumatic growth
terror management theory
death reflection


Associated Publications