American University
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The Impact of Mortality Salience on College Students' Intent to Help Older Adults

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posted on 2023-08-04, 08:58 authored by Erika A. Fenstermacher

Terror Management Theory (TMT) states that the awareness of one’s own death causes humans to experience intense anxiety, which must be continuously managed. The mortality salience hypothesis posits that when a person is reminded of their death, they will rely more heavily on psychological resources in order to cope. Much of the research on TMT and subsequent human behavior has been focused on negative outcomes, rather than prosocial behavior. America is encountering a growing aging population who, in the coming years, will need the public’s attention more than ever. This shift in the population will demand that professionals in healthcare, communication, technology, and human services are appropriately trained in geriatrics. The present study recruited 107 participants from American University. They were randomly assigned to the mortality salience (MS) condition, where they were primed with two questions about their own death, or the control condition, where they were given identical questions with the words “death and dying” replaced with “dental pain”. Participants completed self-reports of ageism. After the study seemed to end, participants were given a disguised measure of helping behavior, which they believed to be an interest survey for a student volunteer group. The results, though marginal, indicated that there was a trend such that those in the MS condition were more willing to be contacted to volunteer with kids than being contacted to volunteer with older adults and that those in the MS condition were more likely to be contacted to volunteer with kids than those in the control condition. This reflects the importance of focused efforts on encouraging young people to identify with older adults and on promoting prosocial behavior.





Degree Awarded: M.A. Psychology. American University


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