Science University Research Symposium (SURS)

Psychology: The Effect of Politically-Charged Mortality Salience on Political In-Group Identification

Publication Date



Sciences and Mathematics, College of


Psychological Science, Department of

SURS Faculty Advisor

Adam Smiley, PhD

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation


What influences our attitude toward politics? Researchers in political science have identified many reasons why Americans identify so strongly with their respective political parties. However, researchers in psychology are only beginning to tap into reasons for our behavior when engaging with politics. A concept that has been identified by many previous researchers to contribute to the strength of one’s political in-group identification is mortality salience, the awareness of one’s inevitable death. Research has concluded that exposure to mortality salience leads to an increased identification with one’s worldview. This includes one’s political view. This particular study investigates the effect of politically charged mortality salience on one’s political in-group identification and outgroup hostility. Using 60 participants selected from selected from Belmont’s introductory psychology courses, subjects were presented with a Qualtrics survey that asked them to read news articles regarding either politically related mortality or general mortality and answer comprehension questions in order to activate mortality salience. Following, they were asked about their political identity, the strength of their in-group identification and their hostility toward the opposing political parties. It is predicted that those who were primed with politically charged mortality salience more strongly identified with their political in-group, and showed more out-group hostility than those who were exposed to general mortality salience in the control condition. The purpose of this study is to understand how thinking about death impacts one’s engagement with politics. Data is currently being collected and results will be presented at SURS. The results can potentially be used to be more cognizant of how one’s instinctual response can and should influence the operation of the political and election system.

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