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

  • Author / Creator
    Major, Rochelle J
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2013
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Specialization
    • Counselling Psychology
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Whelton, William (Educational Psychology)
    • Truscott, Derek (Educational Psychology)
    • Schimel, Jeff (Psychology)
    • Cox, Cathy (Psychology)
    • Northcott, Herbert (Sociology)
    • Yohani, Sophie (Educational Psychology)