Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology



First Advisor

Vail, Kenneth

Subject Headings

Psychology, Social Psychology


Terror management theory (TMT) posits that people function effectively in the world, in part, by relying on social anxiety-buffer systems to protect against death awareness; however, a new extension called anxiety buffer disruption theory (ABDT), posits that traumatic experiences can overwhelm those buffers, leaving people vulnerable to death anxiety and at increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. To test these hypotheses, participants with low and high posttraumatic stress symptoms were identified and recruited using a general population pre-screen, prompted to engage in a relationship threat priming task (vs. control topic), and then asked to complete a standard measure of death anxiety. The present research found that: 1) when posttraumatic stress symptoms were low, death anxiety was low in a control condition but increased following a threat to social relationships (a known death-anxiety buffer); but, 2) when posttraumatic stress symptoms were high, death anxiety was high in both the social threat and control condition, indicating overwhelmed/disrupted normative buffering. The present research could potentially bear new insights for the understanding of posttraumatic stress, how relate to others, to the world around them, and to their own mortality, and could provide some hints toward practical implications for improving the treatment of PTSD.