Applying Terror Management Theory to Performance: Can Reminding Individuals of Their Mortality Increase Strength Output?

in Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
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Motivation plays a key role in successful athletic performance, and terror management theory has emerged as a broad theory of human motivation (e.g., Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991) that may have implications for sport and exercise performance. Based on the theory, we tested the hypothesis that a reminder of mortality can motivate improved performance in a task requiring physical strength in individuals invested in strength. Participants demonstrated their strength on a hand dynamometer, then wrote about their own mortality or dental pain, and again squeezed the hand dynamometer. Results indicated that reminders of mortality increased strength performance for individuals invested in strength training (24 F, 31 M), and had no impact on those not invested in strength training (30 F, 28 M), p = .015. Implications for athletes are briefly discussed.

The authors are with the Dept. of Psychology, University of Arizona, PO Box 210068, Tucson, AZ 85721-0068.