Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology


College of Sciences and Health Professions

First Advisor

Vail, Kenneth

Subject Headings

Experimental Psychology, Psychology, Social Psychology


Terror Management Theory posits that people are motivated to defend against death awareness by maintaining cultural beliefs and behaviors that transcend mortality— sometimes motivating hostile, even militaristic, defenses of one’s culture. In contrast, self-determination theory suggests that autonomous regulation (self-determination) serves as a platform for personal growth and well-being. However, the present thesis suggests that, in addition to fueling growth, self-determination may also help buffer against the awareness of mortality, thus mitigating the impact of death awareness on hostile cultural worldview defense. To test this hypothesis, American participants were randomly assigned to be reminded of mortality or a control topic, then randomly assigned to be reminded of feelings of autonomy or being controlled, and then lastly completed a measure of one possible form of worldview defense: support for militaristic defense of American foreign policy interests in Syria. The present analysis found that death reminders increased that form of worldview defense, unless participants were first prompted to recall self-determination experiences.