Our Mortality and the Need for Consistency


  • Tiam Ghorab Comenius University in Bratislava



Terror Management Theory (TMT) constitutes a framework of how human awareness of their mortality affects their cognition, emotions, and behaviour. This unconscious death saliency is typically followed by an increase in anxiety. To manage this terror and reaffirm a sense of meaning humans unconsciously resort to anxiety-buffering mechanisms which in turn might result into conflict with possible threats to the self-protective defences. [1] One of the widely reported effects is the defence of culturally familiar worldviews after being primed for mortality salience (MS). Additionally, there have been accounts indicating that MS increases confirmation bias and motivates people to seek consistency in beliefs when estimating the value of information. However, another branch of research examines alternative coping with existential terror by redirecting anxiety-buffering strivings towards more positive behaviour such as healthy lifestyles or creative expression. [2] A body of research investigated how the adherence to salient norms or values after reminders of mortality can also replace typical anxiety- buffers. [3] This framework and the increase of mortality salience due to current developments in Europe raise the question of how mortality salience influences selection of information on unfamiliar topics.


The idea is to combine prior findings and test the effects of norms promoting exploration after MS on the need of consistency when searching for information. The research will consist of a 2 (MS saliency/control) x 2 (primed norm/no priming) factorial design. Norm saliency will be manipulated by instructing participants to read a short paragraph about the importance and value of creativity and exploration in our culture.

For the information-seeking task, participants will be presented six topics expected to be culturally distant and generally unfamiliar and asked to choose the topic least familiar to them. Participants will then be asked to search for the respective topic and choose five of the found results on a simulated Google search engine, which provides conceptually conflictive results, as resources they would use for researching on the given topic to introduce it to someone else. We expect that on average participants primed with MS will choose more conceptually consistent combinations of search results compared to the control group. Priming cultural norms after MS, however, is expected to cancel out the MS effects.


[1] T. Pyszczynski, S. Solomon, and J. Greenberg, “Thirty Years of Terror Management Theory: From Genesis to Revelation”, Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 52, pp. 1–70, 2015, doi: 10.1016/bs.aesp. 2015.03.001

[2] C. Routledge and M. Vess, Eds., Handbook of Terror Management Theory. London: Elsevier, 2019

[3] M. T. Gailliot et al., “Mortality Salience Increases Adherence to Salient Norms and Values”, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 34, no. 7, pp. 993 –1003, 2008, doi: 10.1177/0146167208316791