Focus Theory of Normative Conduct and Terror-Management Theory: The Interactive Impact of Mortality Salience and Norm Salience on Social Judgment

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Abstract

Research on terror-management theory has shown that after mortality salience (MS) people attempt to live up to cultural values. But cultures often value very different and sometimes even contradictory standards, leading to difficulties in predicting behavior as a consequence of terror-management needs. The authors report 4 studies to demonstrate that the effect of MS on people's social judgments depends on the salience of norms. In Study 1, making salient opposite norms (prosocial vs. proself) led to reactions consistent with the activated norms following MS compared with the control condition. Study 2 showed that, in combination with a pacifism prime, MS increased pacifistic attitudes. In Study 3, making salient a conservatism/security prime led people to recommend harsher bonds for an illegal prostitute when they were reminded of death, whereas a benevolence prime counteracted this effect. In Study 4 a help prime, combined with MS, increased people's helpfulness. Discussion focuses briefly on how these findings inform both terror-management theory and the focus theory of normative conduct.

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