Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Jamie L. Goldenberg, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jennifer Bosson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joseph Vandello, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brent Small, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Diana Rancourt, Ph.D.


breast cancer, TMT, family history, mortality salience


Breast cancer is a pervasive disease affecting millions of people, and a family history of the disease can put individuals at a significantly higher risk of developing breast cancer over the course of one’s lifetime. In turn, women with a family history often perceive themselves as more susceptible to breast cancer. Further, women who have lost family members to breast cancer likely associate the disease itself with death to a greater extent. In addition to this increased risk perception, women with a family history might intertwine breast health with feelings of esteem. It follows that those feelings of esteem should facilitate intentions to engage in those behaviors, especially when mortality is salient. This overarching hypothesis was informed by the terror management health model (TMHM) and was tested in two preregistered studies. In the first study, I found that women who lost family to breast cancer did associate the disease with death to a greater extent, while women with any family history of the disease perceived themselves as more susceptible than those without family history. Despite a lack of support for the explicit hypotheses, I employed a serial mediation approach and found that, where women felt more susceptible to breast cancer as a result of any level of family history, the extent to which they associated breast cancer with death predicted heightened breast health esteem, which translated into increased intentions to engage in breast health behaviors. In the second study, I employed a traditional terror management paradigm where mortality was made salient (compared to a neutral control), with the expectation that family history would moderate the effects of mortality salience on esteem factors to mediate intentions. The explicit hypothesis was not supported, and no effects of mortality salience emerged – however, the same serial mediation effects of family history on breast health intentions through susceptibility perception, death association, and breast health esteem successfully replicated. Generally, these results indicate that women with a family history consistently feel more susceptible to breast cancer and associate the disease with death, which also imbues breast health with a sense of meaning from which esteem can be drawn, which then contributes to critical adaptive behavioral intentions.