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02-01-2021 | Original Article | Uitgave 4/2021

Cognitive Therapy and Research 4/2021

Social Anxiety Disorder and the Fear of Death: An Empirical Investigation of the Terror Management Approach towards Understanding Clinical Anxiety

Tijdschrift:
Cognitive Therapy and Research > Uitgave 4/2021
Auteurs:
Matteo Zuccala, Maree J. Abbott
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Abstract

Background

Emerging evidence suggests that death anxiety is an important transdiagnostic construct underlying a range of psychological disorders. Terror Management Theory (TMT) is currently the preeminent theoretical framework used to explain the role that death fears play in psychopathology. This study sought to examine the TMT approach to understanding clinical anxiety while addressing several methodological limitations associated with the existing empirical literature.

Method

Semi-structured diagnostic interviewing was employed to recruit two groups of participants with either Social Anxiety Disorder or no anxiety diagnosis. All participants were randomly allocated to receive either mortality salience or control priming, before undertaking two tasks designed to measure social and physical anxiety symptoms, respectively.

Results

The overall pattern of results failed to provide evidence in support of the novel hypotheses derived from TMT. Mortality salience priming did not exacerbate social anxiety symptoms for participants with Social Anxiety Disorder, but did exacerbate physical anxiety symptoms for these individuals. No such effect was observed for non-clinical participants.

Conclusion

These results suggest that more robust theoretical frameworks may be needed to explain the evident, but likely complex, relationship between death fears and clinical anxiety. Directions for future research are discussed.

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