Graduate Program

Clinical Psychology

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Russell E. Gruber


Existential anxiety is theorized to result from one's knowledge of human existence. Four givens of life have been identified that result in existential anxiety: death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness (Yalom, 1980). Terror management theory purposes the knowledge of one's own death to be a great source of distress. The theory posits that to cope with these distressing thoughts, one is motivated to adhere to a cultural worldview. Adhering to a cultural worldview allows one to view the world as a structured place, in addition to raising one's self-esteem. Terror management research has shown that making mortality salient results in harsher criticism against those who oppose one's worldview, increased positive regard for those who uphold a similar worldview, as well as influence over various behaviors. Uncertainty management theory suggests that the distress resulting from acknowledging one's own mortality is due to the uncertainty that surrounds death. Research has provided mixed results as to whether mortality or uncertainty salience produces larger effects. The current study examined the effect of both mortality and uncertainty salience on state anxiety levels compared to a control condition. Results indicated that both uncertainty and mortality salience yielded higher levels of state anxiety compared to the control condition. Additionally a significant main effect of self-esteem was found, such that higher self-esteem resulted in lower levels of state anxiety, regardless of salience condition. Results demonstrate the relevance of existential concerns in the young target population's lives.