I am currently reading the book ‘The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life’. I have to say that I am a bit skeptical about many of the statements posed, and I’m trying to identify why that is, so I decided to dive into some of the articles they reference.
One of the things I encountered was a reference to a paper by Schimel et al. (2007): “Is Death Really the Worm at the Core? Converging Evidence That Worldview Threat Increases Death-Thought Accessibility.” In Study 5, they state:
The results of Study 5 demonstrate, once again, that exposure to
worldview-threatening information causes thoughts of death to become
They base this on an experiment in which they compare the DTA (death-thought accesibility) in three groups:
- creationist/anti-creation, creationists who read anti-creation material (n=20, M=2.75)
- evolutionist/anti-creation, evolutionists who read anti-creation material (n=20, M=1.95)
- creationist/control, creationists who read neutral material (n=20, M=1.90)
I have trouble to see the validity of the conclusion based on the experiment. Might it not also just be the case that creationists in general think more about death? And that reading a passage about the theory of evolution (which is inherently about life and death), makes everyone, regardless of their point of view on evolution, think more about death? I think the problem with this experiment is that there is a group missing in the experiment; the evolutionist/control group. It might be very well possible that this group has a DTA of 0.95 and a low SD. If that were the case, reading the passage has increased the DTA of both the creationists and the evolutionists and thus nothing can be said about the effect of worldview-threatening information. All we would then conclude, is that reading about evolution increases DTA.
I am not a researcher myself, nor am I very familiar with social sciences. I hope someone with more experience in these fields could explain to me if my train of thought is correct, or if not, where the fallacy in this train of thought is.
I would also be interested to find references to articles that contain experiments that substantiate the statement cited above.
Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (2015). The worm at the core: On the role of death in life. Random House.
Schimel, J., Hayes, J., Williams, T., & Jahrig, J. (2007). Is death really the worm at the core? Converging evidence that worldview threat increases death-thought accessibility. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(5), 789. (Free PDF)
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