Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology



First Advisor

Vail, Kenneth

Subject Headings



The present thesis builds on terror management theory and anxiety buffer disruption theory to propose that although existential motivation normally leads people to become more certain of their worldviews, traumatic experiences can disrupt those belief systems and cause people to respond to death-awareness by making an open-minded search for alternative belief systems instead. To test that hypothesis, groups of participants with low and high levels of traumatic stress were reminded of death (vs. a control topic condition), followed by an assessment of closed- and open-mindedness. Thus, the present research explored the previously untested hypothesis that increased awareness of mortality will boost ideological dogmatism among those with low levels of traumatic stress (for whom established worldview buffers are unchallenged), but that MS will lead to reduced ideological dogmatism (open-minded approach to alternative belief systems) among those with high levels of traumatic stress (for whom established worldview buffers are challenged). The data failed to replicate data that suggest low levels of traumatic stress lead to higher dogmatism after a mortality salience. However, the data does align with the idea that higher levels of trauma do lead to more ideological open-mindedness.