Advertisement

Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 98–104 | Cite as

Death and design: The terror management function of teleological beliefs

  • William E. Davis
  • Jacob Juhl
  • Clay Routledge
Original Paper

Abstract

Humans have a tendency to endorse teleological beliefs about the world. According to terror management theory, teleological or purposeful beliefs about the world help people cope with the awareness of mortality. Though research is generally consistent with this assertion, it has not been directly tested. Three studies tested and supported the notion that teleological beliefs about the world serve a terror management function. In “Study 1”, experimentally elevated teleological beliefs reduced death-thought accessibility. In “Studies 2 and 3”, mortality salience increased teleological beliefs, even if this resulted in judgment errors. Alternative explanations were tested and did not account for the findings.

Keywords

Terror management Teleology Purpose Mortality salience 

References

  1. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. Becker, E. (1973). The denial of death. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  3. Castano, E., Yzerbyt, V., Paladino, M., & Sacchi, S. (2002). I belong, therefore, I exist: Ingroup identification, ingroup entitativity, and ingroup bias. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 135–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Florian, V., & Mikulincer, M. (1998). Symbolic immortality and the management of the terror of death. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 725–734.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., Rosenblatt, A., Veeder, M., Kirkland, S., et al. (1990). Evidence for terror management II: The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who threaten or bolster the cultural worldview. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 308–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., Simon, L., & Breus, M. (1994). Role of consciousness and accessibility of death-related thoughts in mortality salience effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 627–637.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., & Pyszczynski, T. (1997). Terror management theory of self-esteem and social behavior: Empirical assessments and conceptual refinements. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 29, pp. 61–139). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  8. Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T., Rosenblatt, A., Burling, J., Lyon, D., et al. (1992). Assessing the terror management analysis of self-esteem: Converging evidence of an anxiety-buffering function. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 913–922.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kelemen, D. (1999a). The scope of teleological thinking in preschool children. Cognition, 70, 241–272.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kelemen, D. (1999b). Why are rocks pointy? Children’s preference for teleological explanations of the natural world. Developmental Psychology, 35, 1440–1452.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kelemen, D., & Rosset, E. (2009). The human function compunction: Teleological explanation in adults. Cognition, 111, 138–143.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Landau, M. J., Johns, M., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Martens, A., Goldenberg, J. L., et al. (2004). A function of form: Terror management and structuring the social world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 190–210.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lombrozo, T., Kelemen, D., & Zaitchik, D. (2007). Inferring design: Evidence of a preference for teleological explanations in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Psychological Science, 18, 999–1006.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. McGregor, H., Lieberman, J. D., Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., Arndt, J., Simon, L., et al. (1998). Terror management and aggression: Evidence that mortality salience motivates aggression against worldview threatening others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 590–605.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Neuberg, S. L., & Newsom, J. T. (1993). Personal need for structure: Individual differences in the desire for simple structure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 113–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Norenzayan, A., & Hansen, I. G. (2006). Belief in supernatural agents in the face of death. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 174–187.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Osarchuk, M., & Tatz, S. (1973). Effect of induced fear of death on belief in an afterlife. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27, 256–260.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Rosenblatt, A., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T., & Lyon, D. (1989). Evidence for terror management theory: I. The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who violate or uphold cultural values. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 681–690.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Routledge, C., Ostafin, B., Juhl, J., Sedikides, C., Cathey, C., & Liao, J. (in press). Adjusting to death: The effects of self-esteem and mortality salience on well-being, growth motivation, and maladaptive behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.Google Scholar
  20. Schimel, J., Hayes, J., Williams, T., & Jahrig, J. (2007). Is death really the worm at the core? Converging evidence that worldview threat increases death-thought accessibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 789–803.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Sedikides, C., & Skowronski, J. J. (1997). The symbolic self in evolutionary context. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 1, 80–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (1991). A terror management theory of social behavior: The psychological functions of self-esteem and cultural worldviews. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 24, pp. 93–159). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • William E. Davis
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jacob Juhl
    • 1
  • Clay Routledge
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNorth Dakota State UniversityFargoUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

Personalised recommendations