Terror management in times of war: Mortality salience effects on self-esteem and governmental and army support
Previous research has identified economic and political factors that can contribute to the outbreak and the duration of armed conflicts. However, the psychological factors that may play a role in conflict escalation and duration have received less attention. Adopting a psychological perspective, the present study aims to investigate the role of death awareness in the context of an armed conflict. To this aim, basic assumptions derived from Terror Management Theory (TMT) were examined in an African civil war context. According to TMT, people manage awareness of inevitable death by increased striving for self-esteem and increased adherence to their cultural values. Students from the University of Abidjan (Ivory Coast), located in the pro-governmental part of the country, were randomly assigned to a mortality salience or a control condition and completed measures of self-esteem and government/army support. As expected, reminding participants of their possible death during the ongoing conflict exacerbated self-esteem, as well as support for the actions of the government and its army, compared to a control condition. Given that mortality is chronically salient in the context of a civil war, these effects can lead to conflict intensification by increasing not only each side's support for their leaders, but also the value that members of confronted sides attribute to themselves. The findings are discussed in terms of the role of mortality salience in conflict escalation and the importance of carefully dealing with the past in post-conflict societies.
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