Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts In Psychology Degree



First Advisor

Vail, Kenneth E., III

Second Advisor

Eric Allard

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Goncy


The present research explores an intersection between terror management theory and self-determination theory. Depending on what values are salient, terror management theory research has found that mortality salience can lead to both hostile and/or prosocial worldview defense behaviors in order to mitigate death anxiety. Self-determination theory holds that people are naturally oriented toward growth and well-being, with autonomy serving as an important component of healthy psychological functioning. Recent findings have indicated evidence of the buffering ability of autonomousorientation on death anxiety, but it has only been evidenced with eliminating hostile worldview defense behaviors. It was predicted that reminding participants of their mortality would increase their defense of a salient prosocial worldview, but priming autonomy would eliminate the effect. Participants were randomly assigned to a mortality salience vs. neutral condition and an autonomy vs. controlled-orientation condition, and then asked to indicate their support for the expanding of immigration policies. Results indicated that priming mortality (vs. neutral) led participants to uphold tolerant immigration attitudes by indicating greater support for the expansion of immigration, but priming autonomy (vs. controlled-orientation) attenuated that support, providing evidence for the general buffering effect of autonomy.