Implicit Attitudes and Terror Management: Pilot of Implicit Association Test as a Means of Measuring Death-Thought Accessibility

Norman C. H. Wong, Zachary Massey


Terror management theory (TMT; Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986) has been extensively tested and applied in a variety of contexts. One of the major criticisms of TMT is that there are methodological issues with assessing some of the proposed processes within the theory, such as activation of death thought accessibility. The present study provides an initial test of a proposed alternative for measuring death thought accessibility using an image-based implicit association test instead of the traditional word fragment completion task used in a majority of TMT research. An experiment was carried out with 200 undergraduate students using a 2 (mortality salience: Yes or no) x 2 (social/fiscal conservatism: Low or high) between-subjects design. Results provided partial empirical support for the use of an IAT-based measure for death thought accessibility relying on color images. The IAT-based measure outperformed the traditional word fragment completion task at discriminating between mortality and non-mortality salient participants in terms of death thought accessibility.

Moreover, this study also tested the mortality salience hypothesis to determine whether mortality salience activates cultural worldview defenses following a brief delay. Specifically, participants with differing political ideologies were asked to evaluate an editorial in support of the Muslim ban. Results found that after being reminded of their death, participants with strong levels of conservatism reported more positive attitudes toward the Muslim ban, relative to those in the control condition (i.e., non-mortality salient). Implications of the findings for this study as well as directions for future research are discussed.

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International Journal of Social Science Studies   ISSN 2324-8033 (Print)   ISSN 2324-8041 (Online)

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