Terror mismanagement: Evidence that mortality salience exacerbates phobic and compulsive behaviors

Eric Strachan, Jeff Schimel, Jamie Arndt, Todd Williams, Sheldon Solomon, Tom Pyszczynski, Jeff Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations

Abstract

Terror management theory (TMT) posits that cultural worldviews and self-esteem function to buffer humans from mortality-related anxiety. TMT research has shown that important behaviors are influenced by mortality salience (MS) even when they have no obvious connection to death. However, there has been no attempt to investigate TMT processes in anxious responding. The present research examines that question. In Study 1, compared to a control condition, MS increased anxious responding to spider-related stimuli, but only for participants who met criteria for specific phobia. In Study 2, compared to an aversive control condition, MS increased time spent washing hands, but only for those scoring high on a measure of compulsive hand washing (CHW). In Study 3, compared to a different aversive control condition, MS increased avoidance of a social interaction, but only for those scoring high on a measure of social interaction anxiety. The relevance of TMT in anxious responding is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1137-1151
Number of pages15
JournalPersonality and social psychology bulletin
Volume33
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2007

Keywords

  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Social anxiety
  • Specific phobia
  • Terror management theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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