Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science



First Advisor

Josh Hart




mortality, risk, salience, esteem, self


Terror management theory (TMT) posits that the acquisition of resources buffers the anxiety caused by knowledge of one’s own mortality. The decision to take a risk involves weighing the perceived reward against the possible punishment. Accordingly, previous investigations into the connection between risky behavior and TMT have shown that reminders of mortality increase peoples’ willingness to take risks when there is a sufficient incentive for taking the risk. However, psychologists often look at how personality correlates to risk-taking, such that those with self-esteem are more likely to take on risks under a mortality salience condition due to the fact that they have enough resources to deal with possible failure, whereas those with low self-esteem show the opposite effect. But what if mortality salience simply increases the desire to succeed or chase some pleasurable outcome? Similarly, what if the risky behavior itself acts as a buffer against death-anxiety? In this sense, the desire to accumulate wealth and succeed may be more important in buffering death-anxiety regardless of personality differences. The current study looked to combine TMT and risk-taking theories in order to look at the connection between mortality salience and preference to take risks in a gambling situation. The author of the present study used the Iowa Gambling Task to test differences in risk-taking behavior among those who are reminded of mortality versus those who aren’t. The author hypothesized and his data supported the theory that mortality salience led to a greater preference for the riskier decks of cards on the IGT compared to controls. As hypothesized, self-esteem did not mediate the effects of mortality salience such that both high and low self-esteem groups took more risks in the mortality salience condition. Implications for the understanding of TMT, risk-taking, and the role of self-esteem in certain situations are discussed.