Finding death in meaninglessness: Evidence that death-thought accessibility increases in response to meaning threats

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Abstract

The meaning maintenance model proposes that violations to one's expectations will cause subsequent meaning restoration. In attempts to distinguish meaning maintenance mechanisms from mechanisms of terror management, previous research has failed to find increased death-thought accessibility (DTA) in response to various meaning threats. The present research suggests that this failure may have resulted from methodological differences in the way researchers measured DTA. Studies 1a and 1b found that by replacing this method with a standard method employed when studying worldview and self-esteem threats, DTA increased in response to two different meaning violations. Study 2 found increased DTA, but only among individuals high in personal need for structure, when using this standard DTA procedure, but not when using the procedure taken from previous meaning maintenance studies. Interestingly, these studies did not find increased meaning restoration, so an additional study (Study 3) was designed to provide a theoretically informed examination of this null effect. A meaning restoration effect was observed after removing the standard DTA assessment procedure, but only among participants high in personal need for structure. Implications for the threat-compensation literature are discussed.

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