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.


Curiosity, Interest, Mortality Salience, Openness, Terror Management Theory


Terror management theory suggests that the fear of death is ubiquitous. Only recently has death been examined as something potentially interesting from this framework, and specifically, to individuals high in trait openness (Boyd, Morris, & Goldenberg, 2017). This research, however, did not clearly delineate if participants were actually becoming interested in death. My studies address this ambiguity by examining what high openness individuals are becoming interested in and if the way death is construed impacts interest. Study 1 tested if in addition to becoming more generally interested, high openness individuals become interested in death per se following mortality salience (relative to a control), as Boyd et al. (2017) speculated. Analyses revealed that individuals high in experiential openness only became more interested in death if the death interest measure came after a scale of general interest (i.e., after a longer delay). In contrast to predictions, individuals high in general openness did not exhibit these effects. In Study 2, I hypothesized that high openness individuals would become more interested in art and philosophy following mortality salience (relative to a control) because of the relevance of these domains to openness. This hypothesis was not supported. In Study 3, I tested if highlighting death’s experiential or intellectual qualities would increase general interest and subsequently decrease death anxiety, depending on if one’s unique brand of openness valued such qualities. Only when death was construed of in an experiential manner (relative to a control) did individuals high in experiential openness become more generally interested, and unexpectedly, more anxious about death. Together these studies demonstrate that the aspect of openness related to valuing experience can actually increase one’s interest in death, and when death is construed in a way that corresponds with this type of openness, general interest also increases.