Two decades of terror management theory: a meta-analysis of mortality salience research

Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2010 May;14(2):155-95. doi: 10.1177/1088868309352321. Epub 2010 Jan 22.


A meta-analysis was conducted on empirical trials investigating the mortality salience (MS) hypothesis of terror management theory (TMT). TMT postulates that investment in cultural worldviews and self-esteem serves to buffer the potential for death anxiety; the MS hypothesis states that, as a consequence, accessibility of death-related thought (MS) should instigate increased worldview and self-esteem defense and striving. Overall, 164 articles with 277 experiments were included. MS yielded moderate effects (r = .35) on a range of worldview- and self-esteem-related dependent variables (DVs), with effects increased for experiments using (a) American participants, (b) college students, (c) a longer delay between MS and the DV, and (d) people-related attitudes as the DV. Gender and self-esteem may moderate MS effects differently than previously thought. Results are compared to other reviews and examined with regard to alternative explanations of TMT. Finally, suggestions for future research are offered.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Death
  • Behavioral Research
  • Culture
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Self Concept
  • Terrorism / psychology*