Self-esteem and immortality: Evidence regarding the terror management hypothesis that high self-esteem is associated with a stronger sense of symbolic immortality

Uri Lifshin, Dylan E. Horner, Peter J. Helm, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Terror Management Theory (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986) defines self-esteem as the feeling that one is living up to the standards of their internalized cultural worldview and is consequently worthy of the symbolic and/or literal modes of death transcendence offered by that worldview. Although there is ample evidence for the death-anxiety buffering function of self-esteem, no study to date has assessed the hypothesis that high self-esteem is associated with a stronger sense of symbolic immortality. Supporting this hypothesis, in seven samples (N = 7404) we found that American students with higher self-esteem more strongly believed that they will be remembered and have an impact after they die. Symbolic immortality was also related to greater ingroup identification and lower levels of loneliness, existential isolation, death-thought accessibility, and depression. Additionally, symbolic immortality partially mediated the effect of self-esteem on death-thought accessibility (Samples 4–7) and on depression (Sample 4), although these relationships were also bi-directional with self-esteem partially explaining the variance between symbolic immortality and these constructs. These findings augment the literature delineating the existential function of self-esteem and highlight the potential importance of perceived symbolic immortality to psychological well-being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110712
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Volume175
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Keywords

  • Close relationships
  • Culture and self
  • Depression
  • Self-esteem
  • Social identity
  • Terror management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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