Terror management theory (TMT; Greenberg et al., 1986) suggests that reminders of death intensify the desire to express cultural norms leading to culturally prescribed behavior such as charitable giving, church attendance, and exorbitant spending. Living up to these norms provides high levels of self-esteem, which can serve as a buffer against existential anxiety. The present paper argues that people can experience an extra self-esteem boost when they act in accordance with cultural norms while others can observe this behavior. More specifically, the present studies hypothesized and found that the presence of others (i.e., social presence) moderates mortality salience effects on consumption-related behavior. Study 1 demonstrates that consumers, under conditions of mortality salience, express more favorable attitudes towards a luxury brand (valued in Western cultures) when they know that other can observe their behavior. Study 2 extended these results to non-luxury brands. Under conditions of mortality salience, consumers express less favorable evaluations of non-luxury (non-valued brands) when they are aware of the presence of others. These results imply that consumers derive self-esteem indirectly from the knowledge that others observe their appropriate behavior rather than directly from following the cultural values or norms of one's society.

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doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2009.09.016, hdl.handle.net/1765/17762
ERIM Article Series (EAS)
Journal of Business Research
Erasmus Research Institute of Management

Fransen, M., Smeesters, D., & Fennis, B. (2011). The role of social presence in mortality salience effects. Journal of Business Research, 64(1), 29–33. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2009.09.016