Terror management and aggression: evidence that mortality salience motivates aggression against worldview-threatening others

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1998 Mar;74(3):590-605. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.74.3.590.


The hypothesis that mortality salience (MS) motivates aggression against worldview-threatening others was tested in 4 studies. In Study 1, the experimenters induced participants to write about either their own death 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, MS participants allocated a particularly large amount of hot sauce to the worldview-threatening target. In Studies 2 and 3, the authors found that following MS induction, the opportunity to express a negative attitude toward the critical target eliminated aggression and the opportunity to aggress against the target eliminated derogation. This suggests that derogation and aggression are two alternative modes of responding to MS that serve the same psychological function. Finally, Study 4 showed that MS did not encourage aggression against a person who allocated unpleasant juice to the participant, supporting the specificity of MS-induced aggression to worldview-threatening others.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Defense Mechanisms
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Politics
  • Punishment
  • Social Perception*
  • Students / psychology