The true self and existential structure? Unexpected effects of mortality salience and personal need for structure on belief in a true self


Andrew G Christy, Courtney S Sanders, Matthew Vess, Clay Routledge, Rebecca J Schlegel


Self and Identity


Two studies examined (what seemed to be) a relatively straightforward prediction that mortality salience would increase belief in a true self. This hypothesis was based on existing evidence that the idea of a true self helps people organize the world as well as evidence suggesting that people are particularly likely to rely on such organizing structures when death is salient. We further hypothesized that this effect would be pronounced for individuals high in personal need for structure (PNS). However, our results revealed a pattern in the opposite direction as predicted. While PNS did moderate the effect of mortality salience on belief in a true self, high PNS individuals were actually less likely to derogate the author of an essay suggesting the true self is an illusion (Study 1) and less likely to endorse items assessing explicit belief in the true self (Study 2) following MS. These findings contradict existing theory and evidence and suggest an interesting potential avenue for future research.



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