Whistling in the Dark: Exaggerated Consensus Estimates in Response to Incidental Reminders of Mortality

Tom Pyszczynski, Robert A. Wicklund, Stefan Floresku, Holgar Koch, Gerardine Gauch, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg

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155 Scopus citations


Terror management theory posits that cultural worldviews function to provide protection against anxiety concerning human vulnerability and mortality and that their effectiveness as buffers against such anxiety is maintained through a process of consensual validation. Two field experiments were conducted to test the hypothesis that incidental reminders of one's mortality increase the need to believe that others share one's worldview. In both studies, passersby on city streets were asked to estimate the extent of social consensus for culturally relevant attitudes, 100 m before passing a funeral home, 100 m after passing a funeral home, or directly in front of a funeral home. In the first study, conducted in Germany, subjects were asked to estimate the percentage of Germans who shared their opinions about a proposal to change the German constitution to restrict the immigration of foreigners; in the second study, conducted in the United States, subjects were asked to estimate the percentage of Americans who shared their opinions about the teaching of Christian values in the public schools. In both studies, subjects who held the minority position on the issue estimated greater consensus for their opinions when interviewed directly in front of a funeral home than when interviewed either before or after passing it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)332-336
Number of pages5
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1996


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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