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Abstract

Previous research has shown that reminding subjects of their mortality encourages negative reactions to others whose behaviour or attitudes deviate from the cultural worldview (e.g. Greenberg, Pyszczynski, Solomon, Rosenblatt, Veeder, Kirkland and Lyon 1990; Greenberg, Simon, Pyszczynski, Solomon and Chatel 1992; Rosenblatt, Greenberg, Solomon, Pyszczynski and Lyon 1989). According to terror management theory, these findings result from a heightened need for faith in the cultural worldview that is activated by reminders of one's mortality. Study I assessed the plausibility of an alternative explanation which posits that mortality salience simply primes individuals' values. Whereas mortality salience led to harsher bond recommendations for a prostitute, a procedure that directly focused subjects on their values did not. Studies 2 and 3 assessed the possibility that reminding subjects of any worrisome future concern would produce the same effect as a reminder of mortality. In both studies, mortality salience led to negative reactions to a deviant and had no effect on self-reported affect, whereas other worrisome thoughts had no effect on reactions to a deviant but did create negative affect. Thus, consistent with terror management theory, mortality salience effects seem to result exclusively from thoughts of death.