Being present in the face of existential threat: The role of trait mindfulness in reducing defensive responses to mortality salience

Christopher P. Niemiec, Kirk Warren Brown, Todd B. Kashdan, Philip J. Cozzolino, William E. Breen, Chantal Levesque-Bristol, Richard M. Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

163 Scopus citations

Abstract

Terror management theory posits that people tend to respond defensively to reminders of death, including worldview defense, self-esteem striving, and suppression of death thoughts. Seven experiments examined whether trait mindfulness-a disposition characterized by receptive attention to present experience-reduced defensive responses to mortality salience (MS). Under MS, less mindful individuals showed higher worldview defense (Studies 1-3) and self-esteem striving (Study 5), yet more mindful individuals did not defend a constellation of values theoretically associated with mindfulness (Study 4). To explain these findings through proximal defense processes, Study 6 showed that more mindful individuals wrote about their death for a longer period of time, which partially mediated the inverse association between trait mindfulness and worldview defense. Study 7 demonstrated that trait mindfulness predicted less suppression of death thoughts immediately following MS. The discussion highlights the relevance of mindfulness to theories that emphasize the nature of conscious processing in understanding responses to threat.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)344-365
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Volume99
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2010

Keywords

  • Mindfulness
  • Mortality salience
  • Self-determination theory
  • Terror management theory

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