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Conceptualizing Death in a Worldview Consistent, Meaningful Way and Its Effects on Worldview Defense

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Research within terror management theory (TMT) has shown that when mortality is made salient, people subsequently engage in worldview defense: an increase in derogation of an individual who does not share their worldview along with an increase in veneration of an individual who does. Research has also shown that high levels of self-esteem (either dispositionally possessed or artificially enhanced) or legitimization of one's meaning supplying system (worldview) can attenuate the increase in worldview defense typically seen after mortality salience. Extending these findings, this research examined the hypothesis that motivating participants to consider their mortality in a manner that was personally meaningful and thus consistent with their particular worldview would also serve to assuage the need for worldview defense. The research reported below supported this reasoning. Specifically, participants with a Christian religious background who were given the typical mortality salience prime produced more positive evaluations of a Christian target and more negative evaluations of a Jewish target. However, participants with a Christian religious background who were presented with a meaningful mortality salience induction produced evaluations of the Christian and Jewish targets that did not differ. The implications of conceptualizing death meaningfully are discussed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Shippensburg University, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, USA

Publication date: February 1, 2011

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