Attenuating Negative Outcomes of Mortality Salience with Awe

Peter Kearns, Purdue University


Terror management theory has established mortality salience as a unique source of threat, with particular defense strategies, including bolstering sources of meaning, and a more simplistic evaluation of the world. These strategies unfortunately often lead to the derogation of others with different values. Past evidence suggests that awe, an emotional and cognitive reaction to vast stimuli, may be able to attenuate the harmful effects of mortality salience defense by promoting more tolerant sources of meaning and nuanced judgement. The present paper presents an empirical test of awe’s ability to assuage mortality salience’s negative effects on evaluating outgroup members. In two experiments (combined N = 435) participants either experienced mortality salience or not, and then either experienced awe or a control experience. Afterward, evaluations of ethnic and political outgroup targets were assessed. Results suggest that awe may alleviate negative consequences of mortality salience for evaluation of some outgroup targets, but may exacerbate negative evaluations for other outgroup targets, and that this effect may be stronger among women.




Tyler, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Social psychology

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