Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology

Department

College of Sciences and Health Professions

First Advisor

Kenneth Vail

Subject Headings

Experimental Psychology, Psychology, Social Psychology

Abstract

The present research built on prior work suggesting that mortality salience (MS) can undermine psychological well-being and explored the previously-untested hypothesis that autonomy can mitigate that effect. Specifically, the study investigated the effects of primed autonomy on measured death anxiety following a reminder of mortality. Participants (n = 119) were randomly assigned to either an MS or control condition and then, following a delay, were primed with the concept of either autonomy or being controlled. Death anxiety was then measured. Results found that MS increased death anxiety among those in the controlled prime condition, but not among those in the autonomous/self-determined prime condition. These findings suggest that autonomy serves an important terror management function that can mitigate the effect of death-related thoughts on well-being. Importantly, the results also highlight the potential intersection between existential defense and growth.

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