Student Author(s)

Taylor Richmond, Hope College

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren, Psychology

Document Type


Event Date



Terror Management Theory describes the existential angst that humans feel with the understanding that death is truly inevitable and it assists in explaining why humans develop and maintain religious beliefs, how numerous religious orientations address universal existential concerns, and what the social costs and benefits are (Vail, 2010). The purpose of our research was to understand the role of religion (or various coping mechanisms) in terror management processes and managing existential concerns in a community sample (mTurk) and in a sample of participants who regularly face mortality concerns (first responders).

We collected two samples. Participants were randomly assigned to a standard mortality salience induction or dental pain prime and completed measures of mental health, such as anxiety (death anxiety and clinical anxiety), depression, and PTSD. Next, participants reported on their religious coping. We predicted a main effect for intrinsic religiousness (IR), a main effect for mortality salience (MS), and an interaction between IR and MS. In Sample A (N = 176), we sampled community members from mTurk. Our predictions were not supported. The depression and anxiety measure means were higher for dental pain than death, which could have been because the COVID-19 pandemic makes morality perpetually salient. In Sample B (N = 211), we gathered data from first responders (e.g., ambulance staff, police officers, firefighters) via the snowball method. We predicted that first responders’ religious coping would be higher than the mTurk Sample, and we also predicted that the first responder’s mental health scores would be poorer than that of the general population. Results indicated the opposite of both of these hypotheses. We posit that this could be a protective measure because first responders are routinely exposed to death, they may become either better at coping with the trauma or they become habituated to it.


This project was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this project are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

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