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Psychol Sci. 2014 Jan;25(1):30-7. doi: 10.1177/0956797613483478. Epub 2013 Nov 4.

Embodied terror management: interpersonal touch alleviates existential concerns among individuals with low self-esteem.

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VU University Amsterdam.


Individuals with low (rather than high) self-esteem often struggle with existential concerns. In the present research, we examined whether these existential concerns may be alleviated by seemingly trivial experiences of both real and simulated interpersonal touch. A brief touch on the shoulder by a female experimenter led individuals with low self-esteem to experience less death anxiety (Study 1) and more social connectedness after a death reminder (Study 2). Reminding individuals with low self-esteem of death increased their desire for touch, as indicated by higher value estimates of a teddy bear, a toy animal that simulates interpersonal touch (Study 3). Finally, holding a teddy bear (vs. a cardboard box) led individuals with low self-esteem to respond to a death reminder with less defensive ethnocentrism (Study 4). Individuals with high self-esteem were unaffected by touch (Studies 1-4). These findings highlight the existential significance of embodied touch experiences, particularly for individuals with low self-esteem.


death and dying; ethnocentrism; fear of death; mortality salience; self-esteem; social connectedness; terror management; touch

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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