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


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.