A large body of research has shown that when people are reminded of their mortality, their defense of their cultural worldview intensifies. Although some psychological defenses seem to be instigated by negative affective responses to threat, mortality salience does not appear to arouse such affect. Terror management theory posits that the potential to experience anxiety, rather than the actual experience of anxiety, underlies these effects of mortality salience. If this is correct, then mortality-salience effects should be reduced when participants believe they are not capable of reacting to the reminder of mortality with anxiety. In a test of this hypothesis, participants consumed a placebo purported to either block anxiety or enhance memory. Then we manipulated mortality salience, and participants evaluated pro- and anti-American essays as a measure of worldview defense. Although mortality salience intensified worldview defense in the memory-enhancer condition, this effect was completely eliminated in the anxiety-blacker condition. The results suggest that some psychological defenses serve to avert the experience of anxiety rather than to ameliorate actually experienced anxiety.
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