Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 113–133 | Cite as

Sympathy for the Devil: Evidence That Reminding Whites of Their Mortality Promotes More Favorable Reactions to White Racists

  • Jeff Greenberg
  • Jeff Schimel
  • Andy Martens
  • Sheldon Solomon
  • Tom Pyszcznyski


Terror management research has often shown that after reminders of mortality, people show greater investment in and support for groups to which they belong. The question for the present research was whether or not this would extend to Euro American investment in their identification as White. Although it seemed unlikely that White participants would directly exhibit increased identification as Whites, we hypothesized that mortality salience would increase sympathy for other Whites who expressed racial pride or favoritism toward Whites. In support of the hypothesis, a White person expressing pride in his race was viewed by White participants as particularly racist relative to a Black person who does so in Study 1, but was deemed less racist after White participants were reminded of their own mortality in Study 2. Similarly, in Study 3, White participants rated an explicitly racist White employer as less racist when they were reminded beforehand of their own mortality. The results were discussed in terms of implications for affiliation with racist ideologies and terror management defenses.


Social Psychology Management Research White Participant Great Investment White Racist 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arndt, J., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., & Solomon, S. (1997). Subliminal exposure to death-related stimuli increases defense of the cultural worldview. Psychological Science, 8, 379-385.Google Scholar
  2. Arndt, J., Greenberg, J., Schimel, J., Pyszczynski, T.,& Solomon, S. (2001). To belong or not to belong, that is the question: Terror management and identification with gender and ethnicity. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  3. Arndt, J., & Goldenberg, J. L. (in press). From threat to sweat: Towards a fuller understanding of the role of physiological arousal in self-esteem maintenance. In A. Tesser, J. V. Wood & D. A. Stapel (Eds.), Psychology of self: Regulation and group context. Washington, DC: APA Books.Google Scholar
  4. Baldwin, M. W., & Wesley, R. (1996). Effects of existential anxiety and self-esteem on the perception of others. Basic and Applied Social Psychology,10, 75-95.Google Scholar
  5. Baumeister, R., Smart, L., & Boden, J. (1996). Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological Review,103, 5-33.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Becker, E. (1962). The birth and death of meaning. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  7. Becker, E. (1973). The denial of death. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  8. Becker, E. (1975). Escape from evil. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  9. Brewer, M. B., Manzi, J. M., & Shaw, J. S. (1993). In-group identification as a function of depersonalization, distinctiveness, and status. Psychological Science,4, 88-92.Google Scholar
  10. Bushman, B., & Baumeister, R. (1998). Threatened egotism, narcissism, self-esteem, and direct and displaced aggression: Does self-love or self-hate lead to violence? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,75, 219-229.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Cialdini, R.,& Richardson, K. (1980). Two indirect tactics of image management: Basking and blasting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,39, 406-415.Google Scholar
  12. Crowne, D., & Marlowe, D. (1964). The approval motive: Studies in evaluative dependence. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  13. Dechesne, M., Greenberg, J., Arndt, J., & Schimel, J. (2000). Terror management and the vicissitudes of sports fan affiliation: The effects of mortality salience on optimism and fan identification. European Journal of Social Psychology,30, 813-835.Google Scholar
  14. Dechesne, M., Janssen, J.,& van Knippenberg, A. (2000). Derogation and distancing as terror management strategies: The moderating role of need for closure and permeability of group boundaries.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,79, 923-932.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Doosje, B., Branscombe, N. R., Spears, R., & Manstead, A. S. R. (1998). Guilty by association: When one's group has a negative history. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 872-886.Google Scholar
  16. Dovidio, J. F., & Gaertner, S. L. (1998). On the nature of contemporary prejudice: The causes, consequences, and challenges of aversive racism. In J. L. Eberhardt & S. T. Fiske (Eds.), Confronting racism: The problem and the response. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  17. Fein, S., & Spencer, S. (1997). Prejudice as self-image maintenance: Affirming the self through derogating others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,73, 31-44.Google Scholar
  18. Florian, V., & Mikulincer, M. (1997). Fear of death and the judgement of social transgressions: A multidimensional of terror management theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,73, 369-380.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Fromm, E. (1965). Escape from freedom. New York: Avon Books.Google Scholar
  20. Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., Pinel, E., Jordan, K., & Simon, L. (1993). The effects of self-esteem on vulnerability-denying defensive distortions. Further evidence that self-esteem serves an anxiety-buffering functions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,29, 229-251.Google Scholar
  21. 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.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Greenberg, J., Simon, L., Harmon-Jones, E., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T., & Chatel, D. (1995). Testing alternative explanations for mortality effects: Terror management, value accessibility, or worrisome thoughts? European Journal of Social Psychology,12, 417-433.Google Scholar
  23. Greenberg, J., Simon, L., Porteus, J., Pyszczynski, T., & Solomon, S. (1995). Evidence of a terror management function of cultural icons: The effects of mortality salience on the inappropriate use of cherished cultural symbols. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,21, 1221-1228.Google Scholar
  24. Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., & Pyszczynski, T. (1986). The causes and consequences of a need for self-esteem. A terror management theory. In R. F. Baumeister (Ed.), Public self and private self. New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  25. Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Rosenblatt, A., Burling, J., Lyon, D., Pinel, E., & Simon, L. (1992). Why do people need self-esteem? Converging evidence that self-esteem serves an anxiety-buffering function. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,63, 913-922.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. 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
  27. Goldenberg, J. L., McCoy, S. K., Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., & Solomon, S. (2000). The body as a source of self-esteem: The effect of mortality salience on identification with one's body, interest in sex, and appearance monitoring. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,79, 118-130.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Horney, K. (1937). Neurotic personality of our time. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  29. Kernis, M., Grannemann, B., & Barclay, L. (1989). Stability and level of self-esteem as predictors of anger arousal and hostility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,56, 1013-1022.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Lifton, R. J. (1983). The broken connection: On death and the continuity of life. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  31. McGregor, I., Zanna, M., Holmes, J., & Spencer, S. (2001). Compensatory conviction in the face of personal uncertainty: Going to extremes and being oneself. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,80, 472-488.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Nelson, L. J., Moore, D. L., Olivetti, J., & Scott, T. (1997). General and personal mortality salience and nationalistic bias. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,23, 884-892.Google Scholar
  33. Ochsmann, R., & Mathay, M. (1996). Depreciating of and distancing from foreigners: Effects of mortality salience. Unpublished manuscript, Universitat Mainz, Mainz, Germany.Google Scholar
  34. Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., & Solomon, S. (1999). A dual-process model of defense against conscious and unconscious death-related thoughts: An extension of terror management theory. Psychological Review,106, 835-845.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Pyszczynski, T., Wicklund, R. A., Floresky, S., Gauch, G., Koch, S., Solomon, S., & Greenberg, J. (1996). Whistling in the dark: Exaggerated estimates of social consensus in response to incidental reminders of mortality. Psychological Science,7, 332-336.Google Scholar
  36. Rhodewalt, F.,& Morf, C. (1998). On self-aggrandizement and anger:Atemporal analysis of narcissism and affective reactions to success and failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,74, 672-685.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. 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.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Salmivalli, C., Kaukianinen, A., Kaistaniemi, L., & Lagerspetz, K. (1999). Self-evaluated self-esteem, peer-evaluated self-esteem, and defensive egotism as predictors of adolescents' participation in bullying situations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1268-1278.Google Scholar
  39. Schimel, J., Simon, L., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., Waxmonsky, J., & Arndt, J. (1999). Stereotypes and terror management: Evidence that mortality salience enhances stereotypic thinking and preferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 905-926.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Sears, D. O., & Jessor, T. (1996). White's racial policy attitudes: The role of White racism. Social Science Quarterly, 77, 751-759.Google Scholar
  41. Shakespeare, W.(1962). In M. R. Ridley (Ed.), Julius Ceasar. Great Britain: W.&J. Mackay.Google Scholar
  42. Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (1991). A terror management theory of social behavior. On the psychological functions of self-esteem and cultural worldviews. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 24, 93-195. San Diego. Academic Press.Google Scholar
  43. Tajfel, H.,& Turner, J. C. (1986). The social identity of intergroup behavior. In S. Worchel & W. Austin (Eds.), Psychology of intergroup relations. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.Google Scholar
  44. Taubman Ben-Ari, O., Florian, V., & Mikulincer, M. (1999). The impact of mortality salience on reckless driving-A test of terror management mechanisms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 35-45.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Watson, D., & Clark, L. A. (1992). Affects separable and inseparable: On the hierarchical arrangement of the negative affects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 489-505.Google Scholar
  46. Wilkenson, P., & Hendrickson, M. (1999, June 10). Humiliation and revenge: The story of Reb and VoDkA. Rolling Stone, pp. 49-51, 53-54, 140-141.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeff Greenberg
    • 1
  • Jeff Schimel
    • 1
  • Andy Martens
    • 1
  • Sheldon Solomon
    • 2
  • Tom Pyszcznyski
    • 3
  1. 1.University of ArizonaTucson
  2. 2.Brooklyn CollegeBrooklyn
  3. 3.University of Colorado-Colorado SpringsColorado Springs

Personalised recommendations