Linking contingent self-worth and terror management theory
Wild, Maeghan M. A.
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Self-esteem has been shown to act as a buffer between the self and death anxiety. Consequently, lowering self-esteem results in an increase of death anxiety. This basic hypothesis of Terror Management Theory (TMT) has been supported by a vast number of studies. However no study has used the Contingencies of Self-Worth (CSW) Theory – a theory of self-esteem that suggests threats to one’s self esteem must occur in a domain relevant to one’s self-worth to be effective – to assess the self-esteem buffer hypothesis. To determine if death anxiety is higher when participants experience a threat to a relevant domain in which their self-worth is highly contingent, 101 undergraduate students from the University of Regina Psychology Department Participant Pool were recruited for an online study. After completing the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE) and the Contingencies of Self-Worth Scale (CSWS), participants filled out one of three possible open ended question depending on which of one of three threat conditions they were randomly assigned to: appearance threat (n = 33), academic threat (n = 33) or control (n = 35). All participants then filled out the Collette-Lester Fear of Death (FDS) death of self and dying of self subscales. Unlike previous studies, both threat conditions proved unsuccessful in increasing death anxiety scores compared to the control. High CSW scores were associated with lower rather than higher death anxiety scores. Threatening a single domain may not have increased death anxiety due to the strong associations between CSW domains as having multiple domains on which self-esteem is highly contingent may help to dissipate threats focused on a single domain.