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Older Adults and Generativity: Developmental, Experimental, and Clinical Advances in Terror Management Theory Open Access


Other title
psychosocial development
older adults
terror management theory
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Major, Rochelle J
Supervisor and department
Whelton, William (Educational Psychology)
Examining committee member and department
Truscott, Derek (Educational Psychology)
Schimel, Jeff (Psychology)
Whelton, William (Educational Psychology)
Yohani, Sophie (Educational Psychology)
Cox, Cathy (Psychology)
Northcott, Herbert (Sociology)
Department of Educational Psychology
Counselling Psychology
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Terror Management Theory (TMT) (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986) offers an empirical framework to explore how human beings function despite their fear of death. TMT studies have shown that in order to buffer death anxiety, people strive to meet the standards of their cultural worldview. These studies have been conducted almost exclusively with younger participants. Preliminary research with older adults has indicated that seniors might not respond to TMT experimental manipulations in the same way as their younger counterparts (Maxfield et al., 2007). This dissertation is organized into three papers as well as an introduction and a conclusion. The goal of paper one was to provide a review of TMT research from a developmental perspective. One core theme that emerged from this review was the importance of developmental theory in TMT research when studying participants of various age groups, especially older adults. The purpose of the second paper was to test a developmentally relevant construct that may buffer death anxiety in later life, namely generativity. Drawing from Erikson’s (1959) psychosocial stages of development, it was hypothesized that generativity may encompass unique death-denying properties for older adults. One hundred and seventy-nine seniors were recruited to determine if subtle mortality salience inductions would lead participants to rate both their generativity and their child/grandchild success higher than a blatant and control group. As expected, participants who were exposed to subtle death primes rated themselves as having significantly higher levels of generativity than the other two groups but this was not the case with child or grandchild success (with the exception of an item measuring common sense from the grandchild success measure). Explanations for these results are discussed in light of the literature on generativity and TMT. The results from paper two indicated that developmental considerations are integral to TMT design. Finally, in the third paper, the TMT conceptualization of mental health as it relates to death anxiety was reviewed. The psychotherapy literature regarding the treatment of death anxiety was also described. Four areas for future investigation are proposed that offer possibilities for meaningful theoretical and clinical integration benefitting TMT researchers and psychotherapists alike.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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File title: Rochelle Major's Final Dissertation Dec 9 2012
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