Managing terror when self-worth and worldviews collide: Evidence that mortality salience increases reluctance to self-enhance beyond authorities

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Terror management theory posits that one's self-esteem and worldview operate jointly to manage mortality concerns. Accordingly, past research shows that mortality salience (MS) increases self-enhancement and worldview defense. The current research is the first to examine MS effects when self-enhancement threatens to undermine aspects of the worldview, in this case the credibility and status of worldview-representative authorities. MS led to reluctance to self-enhance following positive personality test feedback when the test was judged negatively by institutional authorities (Study 1a), as well as unwillingness to contradict self-esteem threatening feedback sanctioned by authorities (Study 1b). Mortality salient participants also rated themselves higher on valued dimensions unless it meant viewing themselves more positively than their parents (Study 2) and admired political icons (Study 3). Taken together, these results show that MS increases self-enhancement unless doing so challenges important representatives of the worldview. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-79
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009



  • Authority
  • Family
  • Leadership
  • Self-esteem
  • System-justification theory
  • Terror management theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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