Inner Terror and Outward Hate: The Effects of Mortality Salience on Bias Motivated Attacks

Part of the Nebraska Symposium on Motivation book series (NSM, volume 56)


In 2008, a year that an African American man was elected President of the United States, and same sex unions were temporarily legalized in California and recognized in New York, reminders of intolerance and prejudice remained strong. Immediately following the election of Barack Obama, there was a surge in bias motivated attacks across the country, with derogating and intimidating remarks delivered by adults and even children as young as second-graders (Associated Press 2008). Further, shortly after the same sex unions were legalized in California, a majority of California voters supported “Proposition 8,” restricting the definition of marriage to that of a union between a man and a woman. In addition, during the previous year, nooses were displayed in various locations throughout the country such as on school grounds in Jena, Louisiana and on college campuses including the University of Maryland and Columbia University (Associated Press 2007). In addition, on February 12, 2008, in Oxnard California, an eighth-grader, 15-year old Lawrence King, was shot in the head and killed by a fellow student, 14-year old, Brandon McInerney. Apparently King, who often dressed in a feminine manner, had asked McInerney to be his valentine the day earlier (Newsweek 2008). These types of bias motivated attacks as well as others that have previously captured the nation’s attention reveal the darker side of humanity. Although basic cognitive processes that cause individuals to classify others as either ingroup or outgroup members are likely relevant in such attacks, basic categorization on its own may not be sufficient to unleash the anger that is sometimes apparent in hate crimes, such as that of the King murder. As a result, these crimes require additional psychological explanations to help us more clearly understand the underlying motivations that produce such behaviors. This chapter will explore a variety of social psychological theories that have been used to explain prejudicial attitudes and behavior that foster bias motivated crimes, with a particular focus on Terror Management Theory.


Hate Crime Mortality Salience Outgroup Member Prejudicial Attitude Cultural Worldview 
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.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of NevadaLas VegasUSA

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