Date of Completion


Document Type

Honors College Thesis


Psychological Sciences

Thesis Type

Honors College

First Advisor

Dr. Elizabeth Pinel

Second Advisor

Dr. Susan Fenstermacher

Third Advisor

Dr. Holly Busier


mortality, meat, vegetarian, environment, longevity, gender



Terror management theory posits that the drive for self-preservation and the knowledge of our inevitable death create anxiety in people, which they manage in a variety of ways, including favoring those who are like them and distancing themselves from other animals. In studies on terror management theory, mortality salience has been shown to affect food preferences and liking of animals. Here, we test whether mortality salience and 2 other potential motivators, paragraphs about benefits of a plant-based diet on longevity and the environment, affect preferences for plant-based food and meat. We randomly assigned participants to think about their own death or to think about dental pain. Some then read a paragraph on the longevity benefits of eating primarily plants; others read about the environmental benefits; still, others did not read a paragraph. We measured the appeal of plant-based food, disguised meat (i.e., chicken tenders), and undisguised meat (i.e., meat that looks like what it is). We analyzed the data using a 2 (Gender: Male, Female) X 2 (Mortality Salience: Yes, No) Analysis of Covariance, controlling for baseline tendencies for people to eat plants as our covariate. We found that mortality salience increased men’s interest in plant-based food. There was also a marginally significant effect of both the longevity and environmental paragraphs on males. The paragraphs decreased men’s interest in disguised and undisguised meat. We propose that mortality salience increases men’s interest in plant-based food because mortality salience increases health-promoting behaviors, and the longevity and environmental paragraphs convince men to like meat less. These results add to the growing literature on terror management theory and food preferences.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.