Power and Death: Mortality Salience Increases Power Seeking While Feeling Powerful Reduces Death Anxiety
Author(s): Peter Belmi, Jeffrey Pfeffer
Abstract: According to Terror Management Theory, people respond to reminders of mortality by seeking psychological security and bolstering their self-esteem. Because previous research suggests that having power can provide individuals a sense of security and self-worth, we hypothesize that mortality salience leads to an increased motivation to acquire power, especially among men. Study 1 found that men (but not women) who wrote about their death reported more interest in acquiring power. Study 2A and Study 2B demonstrated that when primed with reminders of death, men (but not women) reported behaving more dominantly during the subsequent week, while both men and women reported behaving more prosocially during that week. Thus, mortality salience prompts people to respond in ways that help them manage their death anxiety but in ways consistent with normative gender expectations. Furthermore, Studies 3–5 showed that feeling powerful reduces anxiety when mortality is salient. Specifically, we found that when primed to feel more powerful, both men and women experienced less mortality anxiety.
Publication Title: Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 101(5)
Pub Year: 2016
Pages: 702 – 720
URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/apl0000076
Keywords: power, death anxiety, motivation, dominance, gender

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