Bad news: do reminders of mortality influence support for authoritarian attitudes and social policies?

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Tysiaczny, Chris E.
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Terror management theory predicts that when people are reminded of their own mortality (mortality salience), they cling more strongly to cultural worldviews which provide them with a sense of security (Greenberg et al., 1986). For some people, this reaction to mortality salience also involves derogation of, and discrimination against, “other” people and cultures. An increasing tendency towards sensationalism in the news media has resulted in even more frequent reminders of vulnerability and death (e.g., terrorism, violent crime, health and safety concerns). In two experiments involving 868 introductory psychology students, the present research examined the extent to which their (a) support for authoritarian social policies relevant to Canada and (b) authoritarian attitudes in general are influenced by mortality salience. Specifically, right-wing authoritarianism, attachment security, and political orientation were measured in participants in both experiments. Participants were then prompted to think about either their own mortality or about another aversive experience having nothing to do with mortality. Next, participants were asked their opinions regarding authoritarian social policies (Experiment 1) and beliefs indicative of right-wing authoritarianism (Experiment 2). Multiple regression, analysis of variance, and t-tests revealed that individuals with (a) high pre-existing right-wing authoritarian attitudes and (b) conservative political beliefs increased their support for authoritarian social policies following mortality salience (Experiment 1). In contrast, individuals with (a) high attachment security and (b) moderate political beliefs decreased their support for right-wing authoritarian beliefs following mortality salience (Experiment 2), although the former relationship only approached statistical significance. The findings are discussed in terms of their implications for the news media, for social policies and political opinions, and for social justice.
terror management theory, right-wing authoritarianism, mortality salience, authoritarian, social policies, cultural worldviews, news media, sensationalism, political orientation