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Abstract

The increasing occurrence of suicide bombing attacks highlights a question that has received little direct empirical attention in social psychology. Why are people willing to sacrifice their lives to advance an ideological agenda? The current research suggests that willingness to self-sacrifice reflects efforts to manage death awareness by investing in a symbolic identity that provides some form of immortality. If willingness to self-sacrifice is a response to death awareness then increasing the salience of death thoughts should lead to an increase in willingness to self-sacrifice for a death-transcending symbolic identity (e.g. one's nation). Further, if self-sacrifice after mortality salience (MS) is a striving for symbolic immortality then having participants imagine an alternative way to transcend death should moderate this effect. Support for these hypotheses was found as MS increased willingness of British participants to self-sacrifice for England, but only when an alternative route to symbolic immortality was not provided. Implications are briefly discussed. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.