The Effects of Existential Threats and Relationship Security on Social Attitudes

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren

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Human beings function best when they have a sense of meaning in their lives. We imbue meaning to things in our lives as a shield against our overwhelming fear of death (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986). After facing thoughts of death, it has been suggested that one increases defensiveness towards outgroup members (Van Tongeren, Green, Davis, Worthington, & Reid). Past research has indicated that relationship commitment correlates with a range of positive psychological outcomes. In the present study, our aim is to determine whether positive relationships act as a terror management mechanism to decrease defensiveness towards members of the out-group (feminists). We hypothesize that priming a secure relationship and thoughts about physical pain will lead to less negative ratings of an out-group member (confederate posing as a feminist) than the ratings of a participant primed with an insecure relationship and thoughts about their own death. After completing a series of individual difference measures, participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions (secure relationship/physical pain; secure relationship/death; insecure relationship/physical pain; insecure relationship/death). Both primes consisted of a writing activity. Following this, participants completed another series of relationship and outcome measures. Once completing the packet, participants were directed to a room to be debriefed by a lab assistant wearing a shirt that read, “this is what a feminist looks like.” After the debriefing, participants were to evaluate the RA. We discuss our findings and the implications of our research. This study will contribute to the understanding of Terror Management Theory and what potential safeguards might be beneficial.


This research was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation

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