The protective identity: Evidence that mortality salience heightens the clarity and coherence of the self-concept

Mark J. Landau, Jeff Greenberg, Daniel Sullivan, Clay Routledge, Jamie Arndt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

38 Scopus citations

Abstract

Research guided by terror management theory has shown that self-esteem provides a buffer against mortality concerns. The current research extends the theory to examine whether clarity and coherence in the structure of the self-concept serve a terror management function independent of enhancing self-esteem. Specifically, five studies tested whether mortality salience (MS) heightens diverse tendencies to clarify and integrate self-relevant knowledge, especially in individuals predisposed to seek structured knowledge. MS led high, but not low, structure-seeking participants to prefer coherent (Study 1) clearly-defined (Study 2), and simply organized (Study 3) conceptions of their personal characteristics. Also, MS led high structure-seeking participants to prefer causal coherence in recent experience (Study 4) and meaningful connections between past events and their current self (Study 5). Supporting the specificity of these effects on self-concept structuring, MS increased self-enhancement in Studies 1, 4, and 5 but these effects were not moderated by preference for structured knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)796-807
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume45
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2009

Keywords

  • Identity
  • Personal need for structure
  • Self-concept structure
  • Self-esteem
  • Terror management theory
  • Time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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