Greed Death and Values
10.1177/0146167203260716 ARTICLEPERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETINCozzolino et al. / GREED, DEATH, AND VALUES
Greed, Death, and Values: From Terror Management to Transcendence Management Theory
Philip J. Cozzolino University of Minnesota
Angela Dawn Staples Lawrence S. Meyers Jamie Samboceti California State University, Sacramento
Research supporting terror management theory has shown that participants facing their death (via mortality salience) exhibit more greed than do control participants. The present research attempts to distinguish mortality salience from other forms of mortality awareness. Specifically, the authors look to reports of near-death experiences and posttraumatic growth which reveal that many people who nearly die come to view seeking wealth and possessions as empty and meaningless. Guided by these reports, a manipulation called death reflection was generated. In Study 1, highly extrinsic participants who experienced death reflection exhibited intrinsic behavior. In Study 2, the manipu- lation was validated, and in Study 3, death reflection and mor- tality salience manipulations were compared. Results showed that mortality salience led highly extrinsic participants to mani- fest greed, whereas death reflection again generated intrinsic, unselfish behavior. The construct of value orientation is dis- cussed along with the contrast between death reflection manipu- lation and mortality salience.
Keywords: greed; death reflection; mortality salience
Despite generations of poets, philosophers, and reli- gious leaders decrying the “deadly sin” of greed, much of humanity is presently engaged in a consumer-based eco- nomic system that is most successful when citizens want and seek to have. Public revelations of greed on the part of a few corporate executives have recently left indivi- duals asking, “What is it that makes some people strive for excessive gains while knowingly leaving less for oth- ers?” In attempts to distinguish the psychological fac- tors that drive greed, recent research has focused on two
concepts: value orientation and reactions to death awareness.
Early humanistic theorists such as Maslow (1954) and Rogers (1963) first addressed the motives that fuel and guide attempts to fulfill goals and needs. Maslow (1954) suggested that human existence could only make sense when individuals sought to achieve goals tied to their inherent developmental promise. These goals include personal growth, good health, a sense of autonomy, and a desire to know oneself. Maslow went further, compar- ing “healthy individuals” who seek inner freedom in favor of external approval to “sick, neurotic people who make the wrong choices” (p. 278). This humanistic per- spective posits that when focusing on goals stemming from external instead of internal forces (e.g., pursuits of wealth instead of desires for insight) people are likely to falter along the path to self-actualization. Expanding this
Authors’ Note: Angela Dawn Staples is now at the Department of Psy- chology, Indiana University, Bloomington. The authors thank Marti Hope Gonzales for her comments on an early draft of this article and Christopher M. Federico for statistical consultation. This article also greatly benefited from helpful comments provided by two anonymous reviewers. A portion of this article was presented at the 2003 meeting of the Western Psychological Association in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Correspondence concerning this article should be ad- dressed to Philip J. Cozzolino, Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, 75 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455; e-mail: [email protected]
PSPB, Vol. 30 No. 3, March 2004 278-292 DOI: 10.1177/0146167203260716 © 2004 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.
thought, self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1991) proposes that meeting the fundamental needs of competence, autonomy, and relatedness can lead us to achieve what is known as psychological integration. When individuals satisfy native needs and approach inte- gration, they experience greater levels of well-being and motivation. When, however, these needs are not met, people yield to external drives for wealth and posses- sions (Deci & Ryan, 2000).
Kasser and Ryan (1993) found support for self- determination theory when participants seeking self- acceptance and relatedness exhibited greater adjustment and social productivity and fewer behavioral disorders than those aspiring for financial success. From these results, Kasser and Ryan differentiated between intrinsic and extrinsic values. Individuals with an intrinsic value orientation (IVO) characteristically desire self-knowledge, intimacy, and connections in the community, whereas people with an extrinsic value orientation (EVO) typi- cally desire money, fame, and beauty (Kasser & Ryan, 1993, 1996). This values model asserts that the balance between EVO and IVO is critical when predicting the harmful social and physical effects previously men- tioned. Striving for extrinsic goals becomes problematic for people, the theory states, when their extrinsic values outweigh their intrinsic values. Sheldon and McGregor (2000) validated the assumptions underlying intrinsic versus extrinsic values by showing that EVO participants revealed greater levels of consumption (i.e., greed) than did IVO participants in a forest-management game.
TERROR MANAGEMENT THEORY
Of all things that move man, one of the principal ones is his terror of death. (Becker, 1973, p. 11)
Based on the work of Becker (1973), terror manage- ment theory (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986; Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991) argues that our innate and all-encompassing fear of death is buf- fered through a dual-component process that consists of self-esteem striving and the creation of cultural world- views. It is through faith and investment in these worldviews that people find meaning in life and become productive members of society. Becker and terror man- agement theory further posit that the nearly insoluble human reality of mortality awareness combined with an instinctive desire for survival compels attempts at immortality through culturally standardized systems (e.g., capitalism) and symbols (e.g., money). In the face of mortality, humans seek everlasting life by creating and embracing that which cannot die. Such immortality is gained through cultural ideologies and their extrinsic rewards because these ideologies “seek the perpetuation and the redemption of the individual life” (Becker, 1975,
p. 64). For humans living in capital-based cultures, one potential form of immortality seeking is excessive striv- ing for wealth. Terror management research has shown that when participants are reminded of their mortal- ity they become much more likely to defend their worldviews.
Terror management research activates death aware- ness in participants through a manipulation called mor- tality salience. In operationally defining mortality salience, researchers have exposed participants to gory video scenes, funeral homes, and fear of death invento- ries (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, Solomon, Simon, & Breus, 1994; Nelson, Moore, Olivetti, & Scott, 1997). A com- mon method of operationalizing mortality salience, however, takes the form of open-ended questions ask- ing individuals to express the feelings and thoughts they experience when thinking about their own death (e.g., Goldenberg, McCoy, Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 2000; Kasser & Sheldon, 2000; Rosenblatt, Greenberg, Solomon, Pyszczynski, & Lyon, 1989). When exposed to mortality salience manipulations, individuals have punished those who do not agree with their world- views (Greenberg et al., 1990) and have increased their likelihood of stereotyping (Schimel et al., 1999).
Some recent evidence points to the potential pro- social effects of mortality salience in what researchers called the “Scrooge effect” (Jonas, Schimel, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2002). In that study, participants who experienced mortality salience gave more money to charity than did other participants; however, this gener- osity only occurred when participants considered the charities as part of their worldview. It can be inferred that mortality salience leads to prosocial behavior only if the needy person or organization is a member (or sup- porter) of the helper’s worldview. From this perspective, the “Scrooge effect” does not differ from terror manage- ment results that demonstrate that mortality salience generates worldview defense.
The potential link between death awareness and extrinsic values has recently received attention from researchers trying to expand the list of factors, beyond value orientation, that play a role in greedy behavior. Using mortality salience, Kasser and Sheldon (2000) showed that compared to control participants, those asked to face their death expected to be worth more money in the future and to spend more money for plea- sure. Participants facing their death also showed a greater propensity for avarice, although there was no evi- dence that mortality salience interacted with value orien- tation. A recent study by Dechesne et al. (2003) repli- cated Kasser and Sheldon’s (2000) findings (Study 2), but only in men facing their death in a condition with alleged scientific findings debunking the likelihood of an afterlife.1
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Terror management theory is not alone in placing the profound implications of death awareness at the center of striving for intrinsic or extrinsic values. Work done by researchers studying personal growth in individuals who report near-death experiences (e.g., Greyson, 1992; Ring & Elsaesser Valarino, 1998) and other forms of trau- matic events, known as posttraumatic growth (PTG; Tedeschi, Park, & Calhoun, 1998), provides a history of examining mortality awareness unequaled by any lab experiment.
Researchers actively involved in the study of PTG have focused on a wide variety of life crises, including divorce (Wallerstein, 1986), HIV infection (Schwartzberg, 1994), sexual assault (Frazier, Conlon, & Glaser, 2001), cancer (O’Connor, Wicker, & Germino, 1990; Welch- McCaffrey, Hoffman, Leigh, Loescher, & Meyskens, 1989), and bone marrow transplant (Curbow, Legro, Baker, Wingard, & Somerfield, 1993). Tedeschi et al. (1998) categorize into life outcomes the types of growth seen in people dealing with these (in many cases) life- threatening crises: perception of the self (e.g., increased self-reliance or autonomy and self-efficacy), inter- personal relationships (e.g., closer connections and increased compassion and giving to others), and philos- ophy of life (e.g., reorganized priorities, appreciation of life, sense of meaning, and spiritual development). Researchers conceive of life-altering trauma as affect- ing people in the same way that an earthquake affects a city. When the trauma, confusion, and mourning have passed, there is an opportunity to rebuild and create new structures that are better than the originals. In the face of personal loss, it is thought, individuals go through this same rebuilding of their shattered worlds, often creating new, superior life structures and assumptions (Janoff- Bulman, 1992; Tedeschi et al., 1998). Support for this “rebuilding model” can be found among cancer pa- tients, for example, whose growth outcomes include positive coping, increased hopefulness, and a sense of transcendence (Ersek, 1992; Steeves & Kahn, 1987; Taylor, 1993).
Many of the same dramatic positive life changes wit- nessed in PTG studies are ubiquitous in the study of the near-death experience. Many near-death experiencers (NDErs) come very close to dying, whereas others are actually declared clinically dead. Likening the experi- ence to a “spiritual catalyst,” Ring (1984) outlined the value shifts most often seen in people as a result of near- death experiences: appreciation of life, concern for oth- ers, lack of concern for impressing others, lack of materi- alism, and higher quest for meaning. As seen in the PTG literature, Ring (1984) reports that NDErs reveal a heightened sense of spirituality. This, however, often comes with a de-emphasis on the person’s previous alle-
giance to a formal religion. According to Ring (1984), many NDErs come to see organized religion as a human creation and find a new interest in a “worldview-free” spirituality.
A common thread also found among NDErs is a new- found acceptance of death and a feeling of transcen- dence in that they no longer fear death and instead fully accept their mortality (Greyson, 1992; Moody, 1975; Noyes, 1980; Ring, 1980). In a juxtaposition to the “death is too terrorizing to face” theorizing of Becker (1973), Noyes (1980) found that many of his respon- dents reported their near-death experience not only brought death closer to them but integrated mortality as a concept more fully into their lives. This inclusion of death into everyday awareness led these NDErs to claim that life had more meaning and an added sense of zest (Noyes, 1980). Also common in reports of near-death experience research is the notion addressed by Ring (1984) that NDErs reveal a lack of materialism. Sup- ported by studies of anecdotal reports in the United States (Atwater, 1988; Greyson, 1983; Morse, 1992; Ring, 1980, 1984, 1991; Ring & Elsaesser Valarino, 1998), England (Grey, 1985), Australia (Sutherland, 1993, 1995), and Italy (Tiberi, 1993), many NDErs do seem to undergo a shift in values when it comes to their previ- ous, extrinsically oriented worldviews. Reports fre- quently show that NDErs come to view extrinsic values such as seeking wealth and possessions as empty and meaningless.
Terror management theory, near-death experience reports, and PTG research address the relationship between mortality and value orientation in very different ways. Results supporting terror management theory sug- gest that for people who endorse extrinsic values, reminders of their own mortality will lead to a further embracing of their worldview (i.e., greed). Conversely, near-death experience studies and PTG investigations suggest that coming face to face with mortality leaves individuals striving for intrinsic rewards. Examining the key features of the near-death experience alongside ter- ror management’s mortality salience manipulation can help explain these divergent responses.
The most noticeable difference between a near-death experience and a typical mortality salience manipula- tion is the level of abstractness associated with mortality. Often, the first aspect shared by NDErs is the manner in which they believe they died. Whereas mortality salience often introduces the concept of death as an abstract con- cern that is unspecified in its connection to the par- ticipant, the near-death experience places a person’s death in a concrete setting. In simpler terms, mortal- ity salience seems to be asking, “What do you think of
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death?” whereas the near-death experience seems to be asking “This is how you died, what do you think?”
Another element that consistently appears in near- death experiences yet remains largely absent from mor- tality salience is the “life review” (Ring & Elsaesser Valarino, 1998). The life review process is often de- scribed as one of the most powerful moments of the near-death experience and goes far beyond the common notion that life “passes before your eyes.” Respondents say the life review involves a complete reliving of every life moment, including thoughts and feelings, as well as the powerful “perspective-taking” process of experienc- ing thoughts and feelings of other individuals with whom they interacted (Ring & Elsaesser Valarino, 1998).
This anecdotal evidence suggests that after a near- death experience, people respond in a manner quite dif- ferent from individuals exposed to mortality salience. Whereas mortality salience leads to worldview defense and immortality striving, near-death experiences seem to compel worldview capitulation and psychological integration. It is this evidence of a value shift from ex- trinsic to intrinsic among NDErs that opens the door for a new form of experimentally induced mortality awareness.
A review of Ring and Elsaesser Valarino’s (1998) work reveals three core elements of the near-death experi- ence: (a) an actual death, (b) a life review, and (c) the opportunity for NDErs to take the perspective of others. We kept these three issues in mind when developing sce- narios for our mortality manipulation, called death reflec- tion. To address facing death, half of our participants read a scenario in which they died, whereas the other half read a control scenario. To capture the life review and perspective-taking elements, we included open- ended questions after the scenario. Along with death reflection, we assessed each participant’s value orientation.
Given that extrinsically oriented individuals desire wealth, we examined the effects of death reflection on greed. In assessing greed, we counted raffle tickets taken by participants in a limited-resource behavioral task. We predicted that when not facing death, participants with a high extrinsic orientation would evidence greater levels of greed than participants with a low extrinsic orienta- tion, whereas experiencing our death reflection manip- ulation would lead to lower levels of greed among highly extrinsic participants.
Participants. Forty-eight introductory psychology stu- dents from California State University, Sacramento (38 women, 10 men), ranging in age from 17 to 47 (M =
21.75, SD = 5.97), participated in the study to fulfill a course requirement.2 Most of the sample was Caucasian (56%), followed by Asian (19%), African American (10%), and Latino (6%), with the remaining partici- pants’ ethnicity unknown.
Materials. The 30-item Aspirations Index (based on Kasser & Ryan, 1996) assessed the participants’ value ori- entation. Fifteen of the index’s items represent three domains of an extrinsic orientation, specifically, money (“I will be financially successful”), fame (“I will be recog- nized by lots of different people”), and beauty (“My image will be one others find appealing”). The remain- ing 15 items address three domains of an intrinsic ori- entation, specifically, self-acceptance (“I will know and accept who I really am”), affiliation (“I will have good friends that I can count on”), and community feeling (“I will work for the betterment of society”). Participants respond to each statement using a scale ranging from 1 (not at all important) to 9 (very important). The Aspirations Index has achieved a previously reported reliability coef- ficient of .82 (Sheldon & McGregor, 2000). Our sample generated a coefficient alpha of .81 for the intrinsic subscale and .92 for the extrinsic subscale.
For our death reflection manipulation, participants were asked to read and imagine themselves experienc- ing the events described in a scenario and then to answer open-ended questions as if the events actually occurred. In the death scenario, participants imagined waking up in the middle of the night in a friend’s apartment on the “20th floor of an old, downtown building” to the “sounds of screams and the choking smell of smoke.” The sce- nario (see Appendix A) details the participant’s futile attempts to escape the room and burning building before finally giving in to the fire and eventually death. After reading the death scenario, participants answered the following questions:
1. Please describe in detail the thoughts and emotions you felt while imagining the scenario.
2. If you did experience this event, how do you think you would handle the final moments?
3. Again imagining it did happen to you, describe the life you led up to that point.
4. How do you feel your family would react if it did happen to you?
We generated these questions to activate some of the common elements found in near-death experiences. The first two questions reinforce the notion of facing an actual death, as opposed to the abstract concept of mor- tality. The third and fourth questions mirror the near- death experience of life review in that Question 3 al- lowed the participants to reflect on their own life and Question 4 allowed them to take the perspective of others.
Cozzolino et al. / GREED, DEATH, AND VALUES 281
Participants in the “no death” control condition read a similar scenario in that they imagined waking up in the same apartment to “the sound of a clock radio and the pleasant smell of coffee.” In this scenario, participants imagined spending the day sightseeing and shopping with a family member, before heading back to the apart- ment for dinner and bed. After reading the no death sce- nario, participants answered the following questions:
1. Please describe in detail the thoughts and emotions you felt while imagining the scenario.
2. Have you ever experienced an event like the one de- scribed in the scenario?
3. Imagining an event like the one described did happen to you, describe the life you led up to that point.
4. Again imagining this event did happen to you, describe the thoughts and emotions of the family member with whom you spent the day.
These questions were designed to mirror the death re- flection questions, providing control participants an op- portunity to reflect on their life and to take the perspec- tive of others.
After completing the questions, participants responded to a demographic sheet that included a ques- tion assessing the participants’ level of spirituality. Finally, we assessed greed by counting the number of raf- fle tickets taken by participants in a limited-resource task.3
Procedure. Participants were placed in individual rooms and randomly provided with study packets. After completing the Aspirations Index, students encoun- tered a request to read their scenario slowly, imagining they were actually experiencing the event. After answer- ing the questions and completing the demographics sheet, the students received another page designed to look different from the study materials (different type- face and colored paper). This flyer contained the cover story regarding the raffle tickets (good for a $100 gift cer- tificate) that were contained in an envelope attached to the flyer (see Appendix B). Our intent was to establish that participants were coming into the study in waves and that as more students participated, the more the number of tickets in the envelope would diminish. We also wanted to make it clear that eventually the envelope would be empty, thus the instruction, “you need to tell a research assistant that the envelope is empty. You will receive one ticket to maintain a chance of winning the prize.” The flyer’s text made it explicit that each ticket in the envelope was a potential winner, so participants knew the more tickets they took, the better their chances (creating poorer chances for future participants). The flyer informed all participants that they were in the fourth wave to go through the study. We set this constant of “fourth wave” to prevent students from trying to figure
out how many tickets had been in the envelope at the beginning of the study. We wanted participants to believe that three other participants had gone through the envelope before them, making it impossible to know how many tickets had been there and how many tickets the others had taken. The instructions directed partici- pants to count how many tickets were left in the envelope by the presumed previous three students. Each envelope actually contained 20 tickets despite the flyer story that it could contain more (assuming the people before them took tickets) or fewer (the envelope could have been empty). Participants were debriefed after they took their tickets. This process took approximately 30 min. After completing the study, we randomly selected a raffle ticket from those taken and awarded the gift certificate.
Content analysis. We created our death reflection manipulation in an attempt to provide a laboratory ana- log to the near-death experience. Based on the open- ended responses provided by participants in the death condition, it seems the manipulation did have an emo- tional impact. Virtually all of the participants facing their death expressed reactions in strong emotional terms. Examples are as follows: “I felt panic, fear, and sadness which led to an understanding of death, contentment;” “I thought about how I focused on the unimportant things like money and appearances instead of what mat- ters most, the ones I love;” and “I thought deeply about my family and girlfriend. Also about life and how I should not take it for granted.” Many participants imag- ining their death also reported physical responses to the scenario, such as, “I got goose bumps;” “My heart rate increased;” and “I had to fight back tears.” Thus, it appears our manipulation did allow participants to be- come intensely involved with their death scenario.
To further examine the effectiveness and conceptual validity of our death reflection manipulation we con- ducted a content analysis of the open-ended answers. Although the inherent differences between the death and no death scenarios hinder us from making too many inferences about a direct comparison, we did code re- sponses from both scenarios to shed light on the partici- pants’ thoughts and emotions. Across both scenarios, our coders found 15 categories that seemed to capture the essence of the responses. Those categories are posi- tive affect, negative affect, references to death pain, physical sensations, thoughts of past life, thoughts of oth- ers, selfish thoughts of others, religious references, goals in life, regrets, negative life comments, and positive life comments. After counting the number of occurrences of each content category for all participants, these category counts were transformed into proportions of total occur- rences to standardize response rates across respondents.
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We did this to account for the variation we witnessed in the length of responses, which ranged from a few sen- tences in some cases to requiring the backs of the study packet pages in other cases. A MANOVA using the Wilks criterion revealed significant differences on the content categories as a function of the scenarios, F(12, 35) = 26.06, p < .01. Univariate tests showed that participants in the death condition responded with a significantly higher proportion of negative affect (fear, sadness, etc.), physical sensations, life reflection, religious references, and goals in life. Conversely, participants in the control condition responded with significantly more accounts of positive affect, selfish thoughts of others (“They want to make me happy,” “They wanted to show how much I impacted them. They wanted to spend as much time as they could with me.”), and negative life comments (“Extremely stressed with the hustles and bustles of life,” “I wish I had more friends. I sometimes feel isolated.”). Although we found significant differences on some con- tent categories that seemed suggestive, the scenarios were so different in design that it seems best to hold back any deeper analysis of the differences at this time. A more informative content analysis is presented in conjunction with Study 3, which allows for a comparison of two mortality manipulations.
Regression analyses. To analyze the effects of death reflection (death or no death) and value orientation on our dependent measure of greed, we first generated a relative score of extrinsic as compared to intrinsic values for each participant. Following the recommendation of Kasser and Ryan (1993, 1996) and Sheldon and McGregor (2000), we computed a single EVO score by subtracting the intrinsic items from the extrinsic items, creating a new variable ranging from low extrinsic values on one end to high extrinsic values on the other end. We used a multiple regression procedure to analyze the main and interactive effects of value orientation and death reflection, centering the values variable (Aiken & West, 1991).
The analysis revealed a significant, positive relation- ship between value orientation and greed in that partici- pants with a high EVO took more tickets than did low EVO participants, β = .33 (b = .04), p < .05. This main effect of value orientation, however, was qualified by the significant interaction between value orientation and death reflection, β = –.48 (b = .09), p < .05. The simple slopes of this interaction (plotted at ±1 SD of value orien- tation) can be seen in Figure 1. Looking at the effect of death or no death, there was a significant relationship between value orientation and greed, as predicted, in that high EVO participants took more tickets than did low EVOs when reading the control scenario, β = .67 (b = .09), p < .01. This relationship disappeared, however, when participants read the death scenario (β = …
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