Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Jamie Goldenberg, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jennifer Bosson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sandra Schneider, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brent Small, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joseph Vandello, Ph.D.


Dehumanization, Sexualization, Appearance, Mortality, Aggression


Although much attention has been paid to the consequences of objectification, relatively little research has focused on the question of why women are objectified. From a terror management theory perspective, the association of women with (literal) objects strips them of the qualities that are threatening (on account of mortality concerns). Sexualization, however, underscores women’s animal nature, and this association is problematic in the management of existential anxiety. The current research builds on a distinction between sexual and appearance-focused objectification to identify the existential mechanisms in the motivation to dehumanize, and subsequently harm, women. Consistent with the hypothesis, participants primed with mortality salience (MS) reported increased mechanistic dehumanization of a female target conforming to the operationalization of appearance-focused objectification, compared to those not primed with MS. Contrary to the hypothesis, MS did not increase animalistic dehumanization of a sexually objectified female target (Study 1). In Study 2, participants believed they were interacting with another person online; MS was expected to increase aggression when the partner was sexualized, and decrease aggression when she was depicted with a focus on appearance. The results did not support this hypothesis; none of the manipulations impacted aggression towards the partner. Ancillary analyses revealed that participants primed with MS attributed fewer human nature traits to the partner in the appearance-focused objectification condition (i.e., they mechanistically dehumanized her), compared to those not primed with MS, thus mirroring the effect found in Study 1. This research provides further insight into the division between sexual and appearance-focused objectification, and is suggestive of a possible existential mechanism in these processes.