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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
Claudia Christ

Claudia Christ

Claudia Christ
Psychology, Japanese Studies
(PhD Students, March 1, 2004 - March 31, 2005)

  • Attitudes towards death and dying
  • Justice psychology
  • Functions, forms and correlates of religiousness
  • Cross-cultural psychology

Dissertation Project

“Differential terror management effects on just world belief, draconity, self-esteem and religious attachment among religiously active and non-active people in Japan and Germany”

Terror management theory, developed by Greenberg, Pyszczynski & Solomon, is a meta-theory of human behavior that has been avidly discussed by social psychologists since its first publication in 1986. The theory assumes that man – like any other living being – has a biological predisposition for self-preservation. In order to support this goal, human beings have developed large convoluted brains that give them the ability of abstract thought, which enables man, for example, to develop self-concept consciousness and to anticipate the future. Yet this also inevitably produces an awareness of one’s inescapable death – a thought that is dreadful in itself and, moreover, collides with the biological imperative to live. This gives rise to a potentially overwhelming existential terror. In order to cope with this dread, people develop an anxiety buffering system, consisting of 1. faith in a culturally derived and socially shared worldview: a set of norms, ideologies and values, that imbues reality with order, stability, meaning and permanence, and 2. self-esteem: the belief that one lives up to the rules of one’s culture and therefore is a significant contributor to said meaningful reality. For this reason, a substantial proportion of human activity is devoted to maintaining faith in one’s cultural worldview and the belief that one is meeting or exceeding the standards of value derived from that worldview.

The main paradigm employed in the growing number of empirical studies that test these assumptions is the mortality salience paradigm: subjects are reminded of their death/mortality and usually strengthen their cultural worldview in response. Prior boosts of self-esteem or chronically high self-esteem cause these effects to be only weak or to disappear completely.

While these effects have proven to be very robust and are well supported, research is needed to specify the role of third variables in terror management and hereby differentiate and individualize the theory. In my Ph.D.-study, I chose to examine the role and function of religious attachment, just world belief and draconity/mildness (attitudes toward people’s faults and flaws). Since one can assume that cultural differences exist in the conception of those variables, it seems likely that their function in terror management should also differ across cultures. To examine this hypothesis, the study is conducted in Japan and Germany and will allow for cross-cultural comparisons.