Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren

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Humans have an innate need to make sense of the world and give it meaning (Heine, Proulx, & Vohs, 2006), and do so by creating and defending cultural worldviews (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszcynski, 2004). Threats to meaning cause existential anxiety, and to protect ourselves from this existential fear, we reject, eliminate, or avoid threats to our cultural worldviews (Schmeichel & Martens, 2005). In addition, following threats to meaning, we compensate by showing aggression towards those who are dissimilar (Rosenblatt, Greenberg, Solomon, Pyszczynski, & Lyon, 1989). Science and religion are two prominent cultural worldviews that can provide meaning. We predict that following a meaning threat, participants high in religious fundamentalism would report a less favorable attitude toward evolution than those low in religious fundamentalism. Sixty introductory self-identified religious students at Hope College participated in this study. Participants first completed a measure of religious fundamentalism. They were then randomly assigned to complete a writing task based on condition: meaning challenge (writing about life’s lack of meaning), meaning affirmation (writing about how they find meaning in life), or neutral (writing about their plans for next week). Finally, they read an essay that presented mixed evidence about evolution and rated the essay and their views on evolution. Data were analyzed using an ANOVA examining the interaction between religious fundamentalism and priming condition on attitudes toward evolution. We found a significant interaction showing that religious fundamentalists were more critical of evolution when their meaning was challenged. Given that religious fundamentalists have been found to hold negative attitudes toward evolution (Poling & Evans, 2004), meaning threats may enhance these negative attitudes as a way of regaining meaning. These results highlight that individuals bolster different sources of meaning that are aligned with their values.


This work was supported by a grant from The John Templeton Foundation.