Coping with perceived threats

People have a fundamental desire to perceive their lives as meaningful and perceive themselves as having sufficient control over outcomes in their lives.

A low sense of control is experienced as unpleasant and associated with decreased psychological and physical health. Therefore, when people’s sense of control is threatened they will aim to restore their personal control or engage in different forms of compensatory control. Examples of compensatory control that are examined in this line of research are religious beliefs, magical thinking and superstition, and belief in progress.

A different, although related, threat is posed by mortality salience. Being confronted with one’s own mortality can result in coping behaviour that to a certain extent resembles the way in which people deal with lack of control, but is generally more focused on trying to affirm a sense of purpose and meaning to life. Thus, in this line of research we examine the ways in which psychological threats influence fundamental views on human existence.

Key publications:

Rutjens, B. T., van der Pligt, J., & van Harreveld,F. (2009). Things will get better: The anxiety-buffering qualities of progressive hope. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 535-543.

Rutjens, B. T., van der Pligt, J., & van Harreveld, F. (2010). Deus or Darwin: Randomness and belief in theories about the origin of life. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 1078-1080.

Wojtkowiak, J., & Rutjens, B. T. (2011). The postself and terror management theory: Reflecting on after death identity buffers existential threat. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 21, 137-144.

Vail, K. E., Juhl, J., Arndt, J., Vess, M., Routledge, C., & Rutjens, B. T. (2012). When death is good for life: Considering the positive trajectories of terror management. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 16, 303-329

Rutjens, B. T., van Harreveld, F., & van der Pligt, J. (2013). Step by step: Finding compensatory order in science. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22, 250-255.