Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


The Effects of Existential Threat on Comprehension of Worldview Consistent and Inconsistent Information




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



According to terror management theory (Greenberg, Solomon & Pyszczynski, 1986) cultural worldviews protect people from anxiety resulting from the uniquely human awareness of death. Accordingly, numerous studies have shown that mortality salience (MS) increases (vs. decreases) liking and support for ideas that affirm (vs. oppose) individuals' cultural worldview (Burke, Martens & Faucher, 2010). If MS increases motivation to uphold beliefs that are consistent with one's cultural worldview and reject beliefs that oppose it, then MS might also enhance people's ability to read and comprehend worldview affirming (vs. disconfirming) information. Three studies investigated this possibility. Study 1 showed that MS (vs. control) increased reading comprehension of a pro-evolution essay among participants with a strongly evolutionist worldview, but decreased reading comprehension among participants with a strongly creationist worldview. Using a pro-creation essay, Study 2 conceptually replicated these effects and demonstrated that the interactive effect of death anxiety and worldview on abstract reasoning is mediated by defensive motivation. Study 3 replicated the results of Studies 1 and 2 among participants with a strongly evolutionist worldview, but only when the information in the essay was perceived as veridical. The current findings provide evidence indicating that reminders of death can both enhance and undermine people's ability to think abstractly about worldview relevant information.

Conference Name

Society for Personality and Social Psychology 13th Annual Meeting

Conference Location

San Diego, CA

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