Trait Self-Esteem and Reactions to Mortality Salience

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TMT suggests that high self-esteem people should be less affected by thinking about death than low self-esteem people because self-esteem buffers them against death-related anxiety. To test this prediction, Participants completed two measures of trait self-esteem, then reported to an experiment several weeks later, where they were randomly assigned to write one of three essays. In the mortality-salient condition, participants were instructed to write an essay about their own death, imagining "what it will be like when you die. Think about how you will feel, what you will think, what you will experience as you are dying." In the rejection-salient condition, participants were asked to write about being rejected by someone they care about: "Imagine what it will be like to be rejected by a romantic partner, close friend, or family member, or ostracized by a group." Participants in the control condition wrote about what it will be like to retire after many years of working. After writing the essay, participants rated their anxiety on eight scales (e.g., worried, insecure, safe, secure).

The participants' anxiety ratings were analyzed with hierarchical multiple regression analyses that used essay condition (dummy-coded), pretest self-esteem scores, and their interaction as predictors. Both of the self-esteem measures yielded identical results–a significant main effect of self-esteem (showing that self-esteem predicted anxiety) and a nearly-significant (p < .06) interaction of essay condition by self-esteem. The nature of this interaction can be seen by examining the correlations between self-esteem and anxiety separately for each essay condition in Table 3. Scores on the self-esteem measures were not significantly correlated with anxiety when participants wrote about death or retirement. However, self-esteem scores and anxiety were inversely correlated (rs > -.73) when participants wrote about rejection, suggesting that trait self-esteem moderated reactions to imagined rejection, a finding consistent with the idea that self-esteem monitors social acceptance and rejection (Leary & Downs, 1995). Although it is possible that the experimental manipulation was not strong enough to induce anxiety about death, the essay-writing paradigm has demonstrated terror-management effects in many previous studies (e.g., Greenberg et al., 1990). Furthermore, parallel instructions to write about rejection had different effects depending on participants' self-esteem

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