Fatal attraction

10/25/04

A new study suggests a relationship between fear of death and political preferences

Following the tragic terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the popularity of President George W. Bush increased dramatically. A new line of research explains why and demonstrates that reminders of 9/11 and of death in general continue to increase President Bush's appeal.

This research is based on the idea that reminders of death increase the need for psychological security and therefore the appeal of leaders who emphasize the greatness of the nation and a heroic victory over evil - those with a charismatic leadership style.

To test this hypothesis, Jeff Greenberg, a professor of psychology at the University Arizona in Tucson, Sheldon Solomon (Skidmore College) and Tom Pyszczynski, (University of Colorado, Colorado Springs) and their colleagues conducted an experiment that is scheduled to appear in the December 2004 issue of "Psychological Science."

For their current research, the scientists asked students to think about their own death or a control topic and then read campaign statements of three hypothetical political candidates, each with a different leadership style: charismatic, task-oriented or relationship-oriented. Following a reminder of death, there was almost an 800 percent increase in votes for the charismatic leader, but no increase for the two other candidates.

"At a theoretical level," the authors wrote, "this study adds to the large body of empirical evidence attesting to the pervasive influence of reminders of death on a wide range of human activities. These findings fit particularly well with prior studies showing how mortality salience leads people toward individuals, groups, and actions that can help enhance their self-esteem. People want to identify with special, great things, and charismatic leaders typically offer the promise of just that."

What can voters do to ensure that they make choices in a rational way, based on political qualifications and the positions of the candidates? They may need to monitor efforts by candidates to capitalize on fear mongering and make a greater effort to vote with their heads, rather than with their hearts, and be aware of how concerns about death affect human behavior.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.
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