Fear of death

TMT Is Being Used Against Us!

When the idea was first introduced to psychology, a plethora of research was conducted with the idea of “Tell me it ain’t so!” But multiple experiments have shown that TMT is able to predict and explain most of the behavior we both promote and experience.

TMT theorists believe that an individual will be so freaked out by being reminded of his death, or mortality salience, that he will invest even more belief in his worldview and resist or violently attack anything perceived as a threat to his worldview. So how did they test this?

Two famous experiments illustrate this phenomenon.

The Judges & the Prostitute

Research has shown that reminding subjects of their mortality encourages negative reactions towards others whose behaviour or attitudes deviate from the subject’s cultural worldview [8]. According to TMT, these findings result from a heightened need for faith in the cultural worldview that is activated by reminders of one’s mortality.

TMTprostitutesIn this first study, a group of judges were asked to participate in answering a questionaire. The judges were divided into two groups. Each group was given more questions to answer but one group had subtle reminders of death contained in the questions. Both groups were then asked to review the case history of a hypothetical prostitute and to suggest a bail bond amount in dollars. Not surprisingly, the group who had received the mortality salience came down harshly on the “deviate”, assigning an average bond of $455, while the control group averaged only $50.

But, it was argued, bad news of any kind could produce the same effect if it got the judge in a bad mood. Experimenters responded that the subjects did not report feeling any negative reaction, but they did more experiments anyway.

This time they reminded one group of their death and the other group received exposure to some other worrisome concern about the future. The same results were achieved with the mortality salience as before. The group that was reminded of death charged more for bond than the group who received other worrisome ideas. The interesting fact was that the group who received the worrisome ideas reported feeling negative — not the group who were reminded of their death.Thus, consistent with Terror Management Theory, mortality salience effects seem to result exclusively from thoughts of death.

TMT interprets these results as the need for an individual to invest more faith and belief in their worldview when they are reminded of their mortality. Individuals will need to become more cohesive with their groups, such as religious or political affiliations.

Imagine, you can be made to be conservative and conform to the status quo by being exposed to the fear of dying. Is this a good thing?

Hot Sauce

HotsauceLaboratory experiments investigating aggressive behavior pose a problem. If the aggression is directed towards a real person there is the risk of someone being hurt or injured. Psychologists have invented numerous means of assessing aggression in indirect ways. A group of experimenters recently developed a new method for measuring aggression, specifically, the amount of hot sauce administered to a target known to dislike spicy foods.

In this study, the experimenters induced participants to write about either their own death (suggesting mortality salience) or a control topic, presented them with a target who either disparaged their political views or did not, and gave them the opportunity to choose the amount of hot sauce the target would have to consume. As predicted by TMT, participants who were reminded of their death allocated a particularly large amount of hot sauce to their worldview-threatening target.

In additional studies, the authors found that following MS induction, if the subjects were given the opportunity to verbally express a negative attitude toward the critical target, their allocation of hot sauce decreased. These results showed that if the subjects could express their negative attitudes verbally towards their politically opposite targets, they were less likely to give them extra hot sauce (i.e. reduced aggression). This suggests that verbal degredation and acts of aggression are two alternative modes of responding to MS.
Back in 2004, an experiment was conducted to assess the effect of a subtle reminder of death on voting intentions for the 2004 U.S. presidential election. On the basis of Terror Management Theory it was hypothesized that a mortality salience suggestion would increase support for President George W. Bush (the incumbent) and decrease support for Senator John Kerry (the challenger).

This would happen because the incumbent president represented the status quo — the worldview as we knew it. Kerry was a threat to this.

In late September 2004, after receiving either a death reminder or a neutral suggestion, registered voters were asked which candidate they intended to vote for. In accord with predictions, Senator John Kerry received substantially more votes than George Bush in the control condition, but Bush was favored over Kerry following a reminder of death, suggesting that President Bush’s re-election may have been facilitated by unconscious concerns about mortality in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the anthrax attacks (which originated from a government lab) and the constant manipulation of security threat levels attributed to vaguely described “chatter” among ill-defined “enemies” of America.

Are similar fears being used to control us today? While the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are winding down, threats of WWIII with Iran and Israel are keeping the mortality salience going at full speed. According to the TMT theory, this should benefit Obama’s re-election, since he represents the status quo.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors/source and do not necessarily reflect the position of CSGLOBE or its staff.

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