Nothing or the opposite: intersecting terror management and objective self-awareness



The human capacity for self-awareness allows people to envision their eventual death and thus creates the potential for debilitating anxiety. Terror management research has shown that self-awareness exacerbates the experience of mortality salience. I suggest that self-awareness alone can induce mortality salience through dialectical thinking. If constructs include a concept and its opposite, then focusing on one aspect should also increase awareness of the opposite. Focusing on the existing object self should thus lead to the recognition of the non-existent self that is implied. In study 1, participants experienced one of two self-awareness manipulations (exposure to a mirror, perceiving the self as distinctive) or no manipulation; mortality salience was measured using a death-relevant word completion task. Both self-awareness conditions reported significantly higher mortality salience than the control condition. In study 2, participants exposed to their reflection reported increased death salience and life salience (as measured by death- and life-relevant word completion tasks) than a control group, which directly suggests that self-awareness leads people to dialectically consider opposing facets of the self. Terror management and objective self-awareness theories might thus be more intimately tied than was previously thought. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.