La Trobe
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Long-term Romantic Relationships and Death-related Anxiety: Novel Insight into the Terror Management Role of Attachment-based Felt Security

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posted on 2023-01-19, 11:20 authored by Nicholas Plusnin
Submission note: A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the Department of Psychology and Counselling, School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia.

According to terror management theory, the uniquely human awareness of mortality is managed by maintaining faith in cultural worldviews, self-esteem, and close relationships. Of these three buffers, close relationships have been comparatively understudied, and their worth as a functionally independent, third source of security has been questioned. The aim of the present research was to thoroughly examine felt security’s mechanism of action to reconcile this issue. The present program of research presents a systematic review and four empirical studies. Results from the systematic review found no conclusive evidence supporting felt security’s unique mediating role. Consequently, four empirical studies examined whether felt security adequately buffers mortality concerns on its own, or in combination with relational self-esteem and/or worldview defence. The first two studies experimentally manipulated death awareness followed by a delay task, as is typical of this type of research. Of the three tested mediators, only relational self-esteem striving significantly mediated the buffering effect of romantic intimacy. The third study only measured felt security after both death awareness and delay length manipulations, with no explicit measure of self-esteem striving that would overshadow felt security’s involvement. Under this circumstance, felt security significantly mediated the positive association between reminders of death and intimacy striving. Study four further probed felt security’s buffering role and found that it significantly mediated the negative association between romantic intimacy and chronic death anxiety. In concluding, this novel research found partial evidence that felt security provides adequate relief consistent with the functional independence claim. Nevertheless, it would appear as though romantic partners crippled by mortality concerns would benefit more from supporting each-other through positive value assignments that bolster self-esteem than by satisfying attachment needs that increase felt security. Keywords: terror management theory, attachment-based felt security, self-esteem, cultural worldviews, close relationships, romantic intimacy.


Center or Department

School of Psychology and Public Health. Department of Psychology and Counselling.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


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The thesis author retains all proprietary rights (such as copyright and patent rights) over the content of this thesis, and has granted La Trobe University permission to reproduce and communicate this version of the thesis. The author has declared that any third party copyright material contained within the thesis made available here is reproduced and communicated with permission. If you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact us with the details.

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