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Individuals subtly reminded of death, coalitional challenges, or feelings of uncertainty display exaggerated preferences for affirmations and against criticisms of their cultural in-groups. Terror management, coalitional psychology, and uncertainty management theories postulate this “worldview defense” effect as the output of mechanisms evolved either to allay the fear of death, foster social support, or reduce anxiety by increasing adherence to cultural values. In 4 studies, we report evidence for an alternative perspective. We argue that worldview defense owes to unconscious vigilance, a state of accentuated reactivity to affective targets (which need not relate to cultural worldviews) that follows detection of subtle alarm cues (which need not pertain to death, coalitional challenges, or uncertainty). In Studies 1 and 2, death-primed participants produced exaggerated ratings of worldview-neutral affective targets. In Studies 3 and 4, subliminal threat manipulations unrelated to death, coalitional challenges, or uncertainty evoked worldview defense. These results are discussed as they inform evolutionary interpretations of worldview defense and future investigations of the influence of unconscious alarm on judgment.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, volume 101, 2011 following peer review. This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at DOI:10.1037/a0024033.


American Psychological Association



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