This research applied insights from terror management theory (TMT; Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986) to the world of sport. According to TMT, self-esteem buffers against the potential for death anxiety. Because sport allows people to attain self-esteem, reminders of death may improve performance in sport. In Study 1, a mortality salience induction led to improved performance in a “one-on-one” basketball game. In Study 2, a subtle death prime led to higher scores on a basketball shooting task, which was associated with increased task-related self-esteem. These results may promote our understanding of sport and provide a novel potential way to improve athletic performance.
Denotes co–first authorship. Colin A. Zestcott, Uri Lifshin, Peter Helm, and Jeff Greenberg are with the Department of Psychology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA.