Do salient social norms moderate mortality salience effects? A (challenging) meta-analysis of terror management studies

Research output: Journal contributionsScientific review articlesResearch


Terror management theory postulates that mortality salience (MS) increases the motivation to defend one’s cultural worldviews. How that motivation is expressed may depend on the social norm that is momentarily salient. Meta-analyses were conducted on studies that manipulated MS and social norm salience. Results based on 64 effect sizes for the hypothesized interaction between MS and norm salience revealed a small-to-medium effect of g = 0.34, 95% confidence interval [0.26, 0.41]. Bias-adjustment techniques suggested the presence of publication bias and/or the exploitation of researcher degrees of freedom and arrived at smaller effect size estimates for the hypothesized interaction, in several cases reducing the effect to nonsignificance (range g corrected = −0.36 to 0.15). To increase confidence in the idea that MS and norm salience interact to influence behavior, preregistered, high-powered experiments using validated norm salience manipulations are necessary. Concomitantly, more specific theorizing is needed to identify reliable boundary conditions of the effect.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Review
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)195-225
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 05.2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by a Grant of the German Research Foundation (DFG; Grant ID SCHI 1341/2-1) to the first author.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.

    Research areas

  • Psychology - meta-analysis, mortality salience, publication bias, social norms, terror management theory