Does Death Make Us All Equal? Conformism and Status-Seeking Under Mortality Salience

Raimondello Orsini, Elisa Ciaramelli, Caterina Giannetti
2015 Social Science Research Network  
The thought of one's own death induces anxiety and threatens self-esteem. According to Terror Management Theory, to reduce this existential threat individuals typically embrace their cultural worldview, and seek for an increase in self-esteem and status by improving their productivity. Within an experimental economy setting, this paper investigates the effect of Mortality Salience (MS) on individual productivity, using for the first time a real-effort task where the economic incentive is to not
more » ... perform. We investigated whether the improvement in productivity was significantly driven by self-esteem or status seeking, providing either private feedback alone or, additionally, public feedback. Always controlling for participants' individual susceptibility to the MS induction, our results indicate that subjects generally tend to be more sensitive to in-group conformity under MS compared to a control (Music) induction condition. That is, they initially improve their performance to enhance self-esteem, but then homologate to average performance levels, consistent with the incentive not to perform. However, for a subset of less materialistic participants, with strong susceptibility to MS, performance levels constantly improved along the task. This research has benefited from discussions with a number of people. We would like to thank Maria Bigoni, Fabio Galeotti, Alexia Gaudeul, Antonino Rotolo as well as participants at SONIC meeting and internal seminar at University of Bologna. Financial support from the University of Bologna -FARB research project "Mortality salience, conformitá a norme giuridiche e sociali, comportamenti economici: modelli teorici e metodologie sperimentali" is gratefully aknowledged. Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. Blaise Pascal, Pensées.
doi:10.2139/ssrn.2585609 fatcat:y53hgeuyi5airklfegdajxfuji