Finding out the effects death awareness has on personal motivation and help seeking behaviours.

| March 4, 2015


Death, in simple terms is just the end of life by termination of biological processes. However, for humans it holds meaning much above this. We humans mature with the belief that death is natural and bound to happen. Yet, there is something about death that attaches the meaning of life itself and the perception, cognitions, affect and behaviour (Darwin, 1872). At a psychological level, meaning of life is construed on basis of what one perceives about death. This project will investigate how perceptions about death affect anxiety and how that affects motivation & help seeking behaviour (Florian & Mario, 1997).


Research related to Terror management theory (TMT) show that there is a need of self-esteem to avoid death related cognitions. It is a strong motivating force that allows us to view ourselves as being purposeful beings and the necessity to survive. Related to this theory is the Anxiety buffer theory that is similar but places emphasis on the nature of security provided by living in a particular culture. Encouraged by the approval of significant others, one derives security and this works as an important factor to avoid death-related cognitions.

Emotion processing and experiments supporting this states that religion and support to religious belief helps one overcome death related anxiety. Cognitive awareness that one is mortal is a thought that remains a centre of consciousness and absorbing oneself into the ‘culture’ helps achieve a purpose to live (Florian & Mario, 1997).

Another study states that achieving status, success and material things is one factor helping humans derive meaning in the so-called meaningless existence that everything is temporary (Simon, Greenberg, Harmon-Jones, Solomon & Pyszczynski, 1997). The anxiety of one’s own death can be avoided by engaging oneself into these materialistic achievements. Help seeking behaviour has not been much researched upon except for the fact that approaching others and forming a social identity through a social group (religious groups as well) is one way to seek help and talk out the anxiety concerns.

Identification with religion and mythology is one way by which one derives a sense of immortality and purpose in life and death. Death is perceived as a phenomena that would render immortality and meaning to life. Research has also found that those who accept that death is the end and there is no motivation to live, usually do not tend to seek help or motivate their own selves to find a meaning in life. Research among those who combat severe terminal illnesses has shown that those who have less negative experiences in battling the disease is because of the purpose they seek in life and what they live for. Thus, motivation to live and self esteem ate two important factors that help in combating mortality salience (Solomon, Greenberg & Pyszczynski, 1991).

However, the studies have not been able to fully establish under what circumstances young people who begin their life and career get exposed to mortality related thoughts and what they do in order to combat them. It also shows the extent to which age works as a factor that improves or degrades death related thoughts (relating it to purpose to live).

Terror Management Theory

This theory lies at the base of the research. It states that death has latent and manifest aspects and to keep the prominence of anxiety about death at the centre of consciousness. Human perception of mortality is dependent upon many factors that include age, cultural perception, religious beliefs and cultural values. This awareness has to be kept at the back of mind or the perception of death should be altered within social terms so that cognitions that defy omnipresence of death are erected (Rosenblatt, Greenberg, Solomon, Pyszczynski, Amdt & Abend, 1997).

Research Outline

Hypothesis: Seeking meaning in life and current perception of purpose to live work as strong motivating factors to live and seek help. Age and related purpose of living through various modes can be equally influential.

Rationale for research

  • Lack of research in the differences of perception and subsequent life support help among young people and their protective mechanism
  • To understand the differences in these perception of death and subsequent help seeking behaviour
  • What cognitions are construed to control death-anxiety.

Methods and Sample


  1. Subjects: 100-150 young persons (Age: 20-27 )
  2. Tools: Questionnaires focussing on the cognitions pertaining to death and factors that promote and demote seeking help behaviours.
  3. Procedure: Young people would be asked to fill out a questionnaire with regards to their perception of death and the level of anxiety and subsequent help seeking behaviour.
  4. Analysis: Analysis would mostly comprise of Multiple regression analysis (Quantitative Statistics) to see what factors best predict motivation to live and seek help.


Quantitative analysis would help us see which factors exactly predict help seeking behaviour and anxiety pertaining to death related cognitions.


Ethical Issues

This study has a sensitive turn so far as conducting a study on aspects that are highly private to individuals like their perception of death, self esteem, and religious beliefs. Conduction of a study of this nature might elicit negative feelings among some individuals and increase their level of anxiety. However, since this study deals with highly personal aspects, individuals will be thoroughly informed about the nature and purpose of the study before volunteering to participate. They will also be informed that their data and information would be kept confidential and can withdraw from the study whenever they wish to.



Further Readings


Darwin, C. (1872/1998). The expression of the emotions in man and animals. 3rd edition,. Harper Collins.

Florian, V & Mario, M (1997) Fear of death and judgement of social transgressions, Journal of personality and social psychology, 73(2), 369-380

Martins, A; Goldberg, J.L; Greenberg (2004) A terror management perspective on ageism, 61(2), 223-239

Rosenblatt, A.; Greenberg, J.; Solomon, S.; Pyszczynski, T.; Lyon, D. (1989). “Evidence for terror management theory: .Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 57 (4): 681–90
Simon, L.; Greenberg, J., Harmon-Jones, E., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T., Arndt, J., & Abend, T. (1997). “Terror management and cognitive-experiential self-theory: Evidence that terror management occurs”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 72 (5): 1132–1146.

Solomon, S; Greenberg, J & Pyszczynski T (1991) A terror management theory of social behaviour: The psychological functions of self-esteem and cultural world views, 24, 93-105




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