Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Maria Hartwig

Committee Members

Angela M. Crossman

Michael R. Leippe

Jamie Arndt

Karl Ask

Subject Categories

Other Psychology


Terror Management Theory, decision making in investigations, worldview violation, confirmation bias, out-group derogation, stereotypes


Terror Management Theory (TMT) hypothesizes that thinking about one’s own death creates a need to boost our worldview and our self-esteem in order to cope with this existential threat. Decades of research support the theory’s premises with findings in many different settings (Burke, Martens, & Faucher, 2010). The purpose of this dissertation is to extend the findings of TMT to research on decision making in investigations. In two studies, I evaluated how thinking about one’s death (Mortality Salience, MS) affected mock investigators’ reactions to the outcome of a case they investigated and their perceptions of a suspect, depending on their group memberships.

In Study 1, participants (n = 299) were either death primed or not and asked to provide their assessment of a case as a police investigator. They were then told of the outcome of the case in court (either fair or unfair), asked how they felt about it. They were also asked how they would investigate a similar case in the future to assess for the impact of outcome on motivational bias. Results showed only an effect for outcome, where participants reacted more positively (and less negatively) to the fair outcome then the unfair outcome. Participants also showed a tendency to generally seek out more information in the unfair outcome condition; however, there was no sign of increased confirmation bias.

In Study 2 (n = 403), I either primed participants with MS or not and manipulated what role they took on to investigate the case (police investigator or journalist), and the race of the suspect (either in-group or out-group member of different races (Black, Hispanic, or White) depending on their own). I then asked participants to provide their assessment of the suspect’s culpability and their overall impressions of him. Results showed that, contrary to predictions, MS decreased mock police investigators’ probability of guilt judgments as compared to those taking on the role of a journalist and those not death primed. There was also no clear evidence of increased stereotype use under MS. Results were discussed; limitations and avenues for future research were proposed.