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On the Relationship Between Conscious and Unconscious Death Reminders, Self-esteem, and Self-control Open Access


Other title
mortality salience
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Faucher, Erik H
Supervisor and department
Schimel, Jeff (Psychology)
Examining committee member and department
Passey, Jenn (Psychology)
Noels, Kim (Psychology)
Fujiwara, Esther (Psychiatry)
Routledge, Clay (Psychology)
Masuda, Taka (Psychology)
Department of Psychology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
When thoughts of death become conscious individuals attempt to suppress them, which consumes self-control resources. Once consumed, performance on subsequent tasks requiring self-control tends to suffer. However, terror management theory would predict the exact opposite pattern of performance when a self-control task has relevance for self-esteem. To test this prediction, I conducted a study that exposed participants to mortality salience (MS; vs. control salience) and after a delay had them engage in a self-control task. Prior to completing the self-control task participants were given information that framed the task as self-esteem relevant or not. Results showed that following MS participants performed better on the self-control task when it had implications for self-esteem compared to when it did not. I conducted two subsequent studies to examine whether a subliminal death (SD; or a death reminder below conscious awareness) prime affects self-control in the same fashion as MS (a death reminder that is conscious). I exposed participants in Studies 2 and 3 to a SD prime (vs. a neutral prime) and had them engage in two separate self-control tasks. Consistent with Study 1, prior to completing the self-control tasks participants were given information that framed the tasks as self-esteem relevant or not. Both Studies 2 and 3 showed a main effect of SD on self-control performance. The results from all three studies are interpreted from a self-control resource conservation perspective. Specifically, MS (vs. SD) activates suppression, which depletes self-control resources. Once depleted, individuals conserve their remaining resources for tasks that have implications for self-esteem. However SD keeps resources stocked and leads to greater self-esteem striving. As such, SD can increase self-control when self-control exertion is a means to attain self-esteem. Discussion focuses on the relationship between self-esteem and self-control, and the distinction between a conscious death reminder and a SD reminder.
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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