Psychology

Managing Terror

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Science  24 Nov 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5803, pp. 1218
DOI: 10.1126/science.314.5803.1218a

Our awareness that we exist exposes us, unfortunately, to the inescapable terror of dying. Jonas and Fischer have explored the role of religious beliefs in allowing people to manage their terror in situations where mortality is made salient. In particular, they focus on the distinction between extrinsic (searching for safety and solace) and intrinsic (searching for meaning and value) religious beliefs. Just after the November 2003 bombings in Istanbul, customers in a Munich coffee shop were more likely to rise in defense of their cultural worldview (to disagree with newspaper articles that were inconsistent with their own assessments of the likelihood of an attack in Germany) if they scored low on an intrinsic religiousness scale than if they scored high; this difference in behavior dissipated with time as the reminder of death became less salient. In follow-up experiments involving students from a Jesuit school and a local university, they found that intrinsically religious people did not think more about dying when reminded of mortality (in contrast to extrinsically oriented individuals) and that this capacity to buffer one's state of mind contributed to their not having to mobilize terror management defenses in the face of death. — GJC

J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 91, 553 (2006).

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