Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Amanda C. Gingerich


Terror Management Theory proposes that the threat of death produces existential terror, which accentuates the need for security. This effect of mortality salience awareness of death-is well documented for non-conscious thoughts of death (Martens, Burke, Schimel, & Faucher, 2011). The objective of this study, then, is to measure anxiety-or fear of death-in reaction to non-conscious as well as conscious thoughts of death by manipulating the valence (positive vs. negative) and content (death vs. non-death) of a story that participants read. I measured any changes reported in fear of death before and after reading the story. Participants also wrote about their first realization of death after making their second fear-of-death rating. Next, they completed the fear-of-death questionnaire a third time. Lastly, participants completed a recognition test after the third questionnaire, measuring their memory for the story read earlier in the study. This assessed whether mortality salience had an effect on memory (Greenberg, Martens, Jonas, Eisenstadt, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 2003). Seventy-one undergraduate students participated in the study. There was not a significant effect of mortality salience on memory; however, results showed a significant decrease in fear of death after participants wrote about their first realization of death as well as a marginally significant effect of content such that participants in the non-death conditions had higher fear of death ratings than participants in the death conditions. Mortality salience, in the form of an explicit. personal reflection on death, significantly decreased fear of death. This suggests that mere awareness of death may not incite anxiety; instead, mere exposure to and reflection on death reduces fear, or anxiety. These results are inconsistent with Terror Management Theory, and their implications are explored.

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