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Frischlich, Lena; Rieger, Diana and Rutkowski, Olivia (2014): I’d Rather Die Than Be with You: The Effects of Mortality Salience and Negative Social Identity on Identification with a Virtual Group. In: Meiselwitz, Gabriele (ed.) : Social Computing and Social Media. Vol. 8531. Cham: Springer. pp. 440-451

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Research inspired by terror management theory has demonstrated that mortality salience (MS) triggers defense of one’s self-esteem and cultural worldview, for instance in terms of in-group identification. A necessary pre-condition is that this in-group contributes to a positive self-evaluation by being successful in relevant social comparisons. Unsuccessful in-groups pose an identity-threat and trigger dis-identification. Nowadays, virtual worlds and avatars offer new pathways to in-group identification and self-enhancement, raising the question which virtual groups and self-representations serve terror-management needs. The current study examined this question in a life simulation game. Participants either wrote about their death or a control topic before they were confronted with an identity-buffering (successful) versus identity-threatening (unsuccessful) virtual in-group, manipulated via ethnicity. Subsequently, preference for in-group avatars and identification with the virtual group were assessed. The results confirmed an increased identification after MS only when one’s identity was buffered. Results are discussed with regard to their implications.

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