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I Control therefore I am: Effects of Mortality Salience on Control Attributions

  • Guillermo B. Willis (a1), Alejandro Tapia-V (a2) and Rocío Martínez (a1)

Abstract

Terror Management Theory posits that when individuals are faced with their own mortality, they use several defense mechanisms to reduce the existential anxiety caused by the thought of their own death. In this paper, we examined one such mechanism: Control attributions. To do so, we ran an experiment (n = 140) in which we manipulated mortality salience and type of failure (relevant vs. irrelevant consequences) with which participants were faced. Participants were then instructed to evaluate the possible causes of their failure. The results indicated that participants assigned to the mortality salience condition, compared to those assigned to the control group, were more prone to making controllable attributions. That is, even in situations in which individuals are motivated to avoid responsibility (i.e., a relevant failure), mortality salience increased perceived controllability. These results suggest that attributions might serve as a control mechanism to compensate for the sheer uncontrollability of death.

Desde la Teoría del Manejo del Terror se propone que ante el pensamiento de su propia muerte, los individuos desarrollan diversos mecanismos de defensa con el objetivo de disminuir la ansiedad existencial causada por la mortalidad. En este artículo se examinó uno de estos mecanismos: las atribuciones de control. Así, se realizó un experimento (n = 140) en el cual se manipuló la saliencia de la mortalidad y el tipo de fracaso (con consecuencias relevantes vs. con consecuencias poco relevantes) al que los participantes se enfrentaron. Después se les pidió a los participantes que evaluaran las causas de dicho fracaso. Los resultados mostraron que aquellos participantes a los que se les hizo saliente la mortalidad, en comparación con el grupo control, exhibieron una mayor tendencia para realizar atribuciones controlables; es decir, incluso en aquellas situaciones en las que los individuos podrían estar motivados para evadir la responsabilidad (i.e., un fracaso relevante), la saliencia de la mortalidad aumentó la controlabilidad percibida. Estos resultados sugieren que las atribuciones pueden ser un mecanismo de control compensatorio frente a la incontrolabilidad de la muerte.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Guillermo B. Willis. Departamento de Psicología Social 1. Universidad de Granada, Campus de Cartuja, 18011, Granada (Spain). Phone: +34-958244259. Fax: +34-958243746. E-mail: gwillis@ugr.es

References

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