The role of mortality awareness in heroic enactment

Simon McCabe, Ryan W. Carpenter, Jamie Arndt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite being derived from the work of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker and the breadth of research it has inspired, terror management theory (TMT) has yet to programmatically examine a major focus of Becker's writings: the relationship between mortality concerns and heroism. The present research investigates whether mortality reminders motivate behavior linked with heroism, and whether such behavior functions to decrease thoughts of death. Findings indicate that after reminders of death and linking pain tolerance to heroism, participants reported less pain on a cold pressor task (CPT). Further, those reminded of death and given false-feedback indicating heroic performance on the CPT, i.e., significant levels of pain tolerance, had lower death thought accessibility. Findings are discussed as generative for heroism research, informing a motivation underlying heroic enactment, and also theoretically important for TMT, informing how heroism may promote attainment of cultural values even in the face of adversity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-109
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Early online date22 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015


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