Does the Awareness of Mortality Shape People's Openness to Violence and Conflict? An Examination of Terror Management Theory

Matteo Vergani, Kerry Steven O'Brien, Peter Lentini, Gregory Barton

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Terror management theory (TMT) proposes that evoking death-related thoughts (mortality salience; MS) in individuals or groups can lead to stronger worldview defence and greater support for extremist violence. In three experiments, we tested whether an MS manipulation, and associated moderators, increased support for extremist violence. In Australian university students, Study 1 found no statistically significant main or moderated effects for MS on measures of extremist violence. However, participants exposed to the MS manipulation reported increases in conservative religiosity (belief in divine power). In Study 2, the MS manipulation had no significant effect on support for extremist violence for Australian university students primed with an antiviolent extremism norm. And in young Australian Jewish people (Study 3), the MS manipulation did not increase support for violence against migrants. However, there was an increase in support for policies that act to fight against violent extremism in Iraq and Syria in those exposed to the MS manipulation. Across three studies, we find little support for the hypothesis that MS results in increased support for violent extremism. Larger more methodological sound studies are needed to address inconsistencies in the evidence surrounding TMT and the MS hypothesis, at least in regards to violence and extremism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Extremism
  • Mortality salience
  • Political violence
  • Terror management theory
  • Terrorism

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