Am I the Master of My Fate?: The Impact of Mortality Salience and Self-Efficacy on Leadership Perceptions

Emilie Noah


Terror Management Theory proposes every human is driven by the need for immortality. An individual’s need for immortality is confounded by the reality that he or she will one day die, creating anxiety. To defend against death-related anxiety, humans develop buffers against existential threat by adhering to cultural worldviews and identifying with groups that instill their lives with meaning. Because group identity is often determined by a leader, this study specifically examined the impact of mortality salience on follower’s perceptions of charismatic, task-oriented, and relational leadership. Terror Management Theory also suggests that an individual will label something as a death-salient threat if it is perceivably beyond his or her ability to control or handle the situation. Self-efficacy, as a marker of perceived capability to succeed, may influence the group identifiers individuals use to make their lives meaningful. If an individual believes he or she is capable of handling an existential threat, it is possible they may not need a specific type of leader to help them defend against existential anxiety. This study examined the ways in which death-anxiety, self-efficacy, and state emotion, act as implicit influencers on voter perceptions of charismatic, task-oriented, and relational leadership within the political context. Participants were undergraduate students at a small university in the Midwest. Students were recruited through psychology classes, and surveyed online through SurveyMonkey. It was hypothesized that death-anxiety would increase preference for a charismatic political candidate, and that self-efficacy would act as an implicit buffer against the stress of mortality salience. These hypotheses were not supported. Positive emotion was found to be strongly correlated with voter self-efficacy. It was also found that task-oriented candidate ratings were strongly correlated with voter efficacious beliefs. The possible influence of personality traits, as well as potential improvements on mortality salience methods, are discussed.


Leadership;Mortality-salience;Self-efficacy;Terror Management Theory

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