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Much of our work involves examining the effects of existential threat on death thoughts, defensiveness, and well-being. Using Terror Management Theory as a vehicle, we are currently examining several areas that are affected by death awareness such as close relationships, health, and religion. Other projects that we are working with involve the benefits of nostalgic reflection and objectification. Below are a few recent and important publications about these topics. For more information on Terror Management Theory and Experimental Existential Psychology, see:

Additional general readings

Cox, C. R., Arrowood, R. B., & Swets, J. A. (2020). Of flesh and blood: Death, creatureliness, and incarnational ambivalence towards the divine. In C. Routledge & K. E. Vail (Eds.), The Science of Religion, Spirituality, and Existentialism (pp. 387-403). New York: Elsevier Inc.

Cox, C. R., & Arrowood, R. (2018). Experimental existential psychology. In D. S. Dunn (Ed.), Oxford bibliographies in psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/OBO/9780199828340-0226


Cox, C. R., Arrowood, R., & Darrell, A. (2019). The method behind the science: A guide to conducting terror management theory research. In C. Routledge & M. Vess (Eds.), The handbook of terror management theory (pp. 85-132). New York: Elsevier Inc.

Lab Projects

Terror management and close relationships 

Much of our research has focused on the integration between terror management and attachment theories to examine the importance of close relationships. Specifically, studies that we have conducted or are currently conducting investigate such issues as how thoughts of threat increase relational striving for close others, how people prefer different relationships when confronted with threat, and how attacking the integrity of close relationships after threat leads to deviant attitudes and beliefs. More recently, we have collaborated with Dr. Naomi Ekas to examine existential concerns in parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Van Enkevort, E. A., Cox, C. R., & Kersten, M. (2017). Attraction. In K. L. Nadal (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology and gender (p. 116).​ Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Cox, C. R., & Kersten, M. (2016). Mortality salience increases language style matching and well-being. Self and Identity, 15, 452-467.

Arrowood, R., Cox, C.R., & Ekas, N. V. (2017). Mortality salience increases death-thought accessibility and worldview defense among high broad autism phenotype (BAP) individuals. Personality and Individual Differences, 113, 88-95.

Cox, C. R., Eaton, S., Ekas, N. V., & Van Enkevort, E. A. (2015). Death concerns and psychological well-being in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 45-46, 229-238.

Cox, C. R., & Arndt, J. (2012). How sweet it is to be loved by you: Toward an understanding of why close relationships buffer existential fear. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 616-632.

Cox, C. R., Arndt, J., Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., Abdollahi, A., & Solomon, S. (2008). Terror management and adult’s attachment to their parents: The safe haven remains. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 696-717.

Weise, D. R., Pyszczynski, T., Cox, C. R., Arndt, J., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., & Kosloff, S. (2008). Interpersonal politics: The role of terror management and attachment processes in shaping political preferences. Psychological Science, 19, 448-455.

Terror management and health

Our research on terror management and health indicates that when making health-related decisions or engaging in behavior that has health implications, efforts to defend against mortality concerns can ironically increase the likelihood of physical demise as many of the culturally-derived behaviors that provide symbolic defenses against death are hazardous to people’s health. We believe that this research has important practical implications as it suggests that health campaigns should take into consideration that people may often be as invested in protecting the symbolic self as they are in protecting the physical self

Arrowood, R. B., Cox, C. R., Kersten, M., Routledge, C., Shelton, J. T., & Hood, R. W. (2017). Ebola salience, death-thought accessibility, and worldview defense: A terror management theory perspective. Death Studies, 9, 585-591.

Arndt, J., Vail, K. E., Cox, C. R., Goldenberg, J., Piasecki, T. M., & Gibbons, F. X. (2013). Dying for a smoke: The interactive effect of mortality reminders and tobacco craving on smoking topography. Health Psychology, 32, 525-532.

Arndt, J., Cox, C. R., Vess, M., Goldenberg, J. L., Cohen, F., & Routledge, C. (2009). Blowing in the (social) wind: Implications of extrinsic esteem contingencies for terror management and health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1191-1205.

Arndt, J., Vess, M., Cox, C. R., Goldenberg, J. L., & Lagle, S. (2009). The psychosocial effect of thoughts of personal mortality on cardiac risk assessment by medical students. Medical Decision Making, 29, 175-181.

Cox, C. R., Cooper, D. P., Vess, M., Arndt, J., Goldenberg, J. L., & Routledge, C. (2009). Bronze is beautiful but pale can be pretty: The effects of appearance standards and mortality salience on sub-tanning outcomes. Health Psychology, 28, 746-752.

Vess, M., Arndt, J., Cox, C. R., Routledge, C., & Goldenberg, J. L. (2009). Exploring the existential function of religion: The effects of religious fundamentalism and mortality salience on faith based medical refusals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 334-350.

Arndt, J., Cook, A., Goldenberg, J. L, & Cox, C. R. (2007). Cancer and the threat of death: The cognitive dynamics of death thought suppression and its impact on behavioral health intentions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 12-29.

Arndt, J., Routledge, C., Cox, C. R., & Goldenberg, J. L. (2005). The worm at the core: A terror management perspective on the roots of psychological and health dysfunction. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 11, 191-213.

Terror management and religion

Individual differences in religious orientation can influence the effects of mortality salience. For instance, whereas reminders of death cause religious fundamentalists to defend against this awareness with greater ethnocentrism, religious intolerance, and hostility, quest oriented persons respond with greater openness and acceptance toward differing religious and secular beliefs. This openness and acceptance, however, is accompanied by reduced well-being and certainty in one's own religion. Additionally, we are examining death thought manifestation as a function of a mortal Jesus.

Arrowood, R. B. & Cox, C. R. (2019). Taking the divinity from the divine: The interaction between death concerns and religiosity on the evaluation of a human Jesus. Journal of Religion and Health.


Arrowood, R. B., Cox, C. R., Weinstock, M., & Hoffman, J. (2018). Intrinsic religiosity protects believers from the existential fear of a human Jesus. Mental Health, Religion, and Culture, 21, 534 - 545. doi: 10.1080/13674676.2018.1512564


Cox, C. R. & Arrowood, R. B. (2018). Religion as a Defense against the Awareness of Death: Comment on Jong and Halberstadt (2016). Religion, Brain, and Behavior, 8, 1 - 7. doi: 10.1080/2153599X.2017.1414706

Arrowood, R. B., Jong, J., Vail, K. E., & Hood, R. W. (2018). Guest editor’s foreword: On the importance of integrating terror management and psychology of religion. Religion, Brain, and Behavior, 8, 1 – 3. doi: 10.1080/2153599X.2018.1411636


Arrowood, R. B., Jong, J., Vail, K. E., & Hood, R. W. (Eds). (2018). Terror Management Theory and Religion [Special Issue]. Religion, Brain, and Behavior, 8, 1 - 100.

Arrowood, R. B., Coleman, T. J., Swanson, S., & Hood, R. W., Cox, C. R. (2018). Death, quest, and self-esteem: Reexamining the role of self-esteem and religion following mortality salience. Religion, Brain, and Behavior, 8, 69 - 76. doi: 10.1080/2153599X.2016.1238843

Coleman, T.J. III & Arrowood, R. B. (2015). Only we can save ourselves: An atheists ‘salvation.’  In H. Bacon, W. Dossett, & S. Knowles, Alternate Salvations: Engaging the Sacred and the Secular. London: Bloomsbury Academy.

Vess, M., Arndt, J., & Cox, C. R. (2012). Faith and nature: The effect of death-relevant cognitions on the relationship between religious fundamentalism and connectedness to nature. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 333-340.

Vess, M., Arndt, J., Cox, C. R., Routledge, C., & Goldenberg, J. L. (2009). Exploring the existential function of religion: the effect of religious fundamentalism and mortality salience on faith-based medical refusals. Journal of personality and social psychology, 97, 334-350.

health benefits of nostalgic reflection 

We are also interested in exploring the cognitive structure, affective qualities, social triggers, and psychological benefits of nostalgia (a sentimental longing for the past). We are currently finding that nostalgia serves as a psychological resource that bolsters well-being; nostalgic reverie increases health intentions and behavior; and the experience of nostalgia helps to ameliorate against money-related anxieties.

Kersten, M., Swets, J. A., Cox, C. R., Kusumi, T., Nishihata, K., & Watanabe, T. (in press). Attenuating pain with the past: Nostalgia reduces physical pain. Frontiers in Psychology.

Kersten, M., Cox, C. R., & Van Enkevort, E. A. (2016). An exercise in nostalgia: Nostalgia promotes health optimism and physical activity. Psychology & Health, 31, 1166-1181.


Cox, C. R., Kersten, M., Routledge, C., Brown, E. M., & Van Enkevort, E. A. (2015). When past meets present: The relationship between website-induced nostalgia and well-being. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 45, 282-299.

objectification and evaluation of women

Our lab has investigated factors that influence the evaluation and objectification of women. Specifically, women’s bodies are often admired, desired, and used to sell all kinds of consumer products and services. However, females’ bodies are deemed acceptable to the extent that they meet cultural standards of beauty (e.g., being thin, being young, having smooth hairless skin). We have conducted several experiments examining the negative consequences of objectification in women. For example, we are finding that sexualized breast cancer campaigns decrease women’s breast self-examination (BSE) intentions; women who base their self-esteem on their appearance exhibit lower BSE behavior when image concerns are salient; and minority women report increased interest in skin-lightening products and services following reminders of death and attractive images of light-skinned females.

Van Enkevort, E. A., Cox, C. R., & Kersten, M. (2017). Attraction. In K. Nadal (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of psychology and gender. London, England: SAGE Publications Ltd.


Cox, C. R., Goldenberg, J. L., Arndt, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (2007). Mother’s milk: An existential perspective on negative reactions to breastfeeding. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 110-122.


Cox, C. R., Goldenberg, J. L., Pyszczynski, T., & Weise, D. (2007). Disgust, creatureliness, and the accessibility of death-related thoughts. European Journal of Social Psychology, 25, 417-433.


Goldenberg, J. L., Goplen, J., Cox, C. R., & Arndt, J. (2007). “Viewing” pregnancy as an existential threat: The effects of creatureliness on reactions to media depictions of the pregnant body. Media Psychology, 10, 211-230.


Landau, M. J., Goldenberg, J. L., Greenberg, J., Gillath, O., Solomon, S., Cox, C., Martens, A., & Pyszczynski, T. (2006). The siren’s call: Terror management and the threat of men’s sexual attraction to women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 129-146.

Well-being among women with breast cancer

We are also interested in studying factors that influence the social and psychological health of women with breast cancer. For example, our lab, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Missouri (MU), conducted research on the association between mindfulness-based stress reduction (e.g., yoga, Thai Chi) and physical and psychological health. Additionally, we worked with radiation oncologists at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio (UTHSCSA) to study the influence of communication in patient/doctor relationships on well-being. Finally, we are interested in studying the role of close relationships in the cognitive performance of women receiving treatment for breast cancer.


Cox, C. R., Reid-Arndt, S. A., Arndt, J., & Moser, R. P. (2012). Considering the unspoken: The role of death cognition in quality of life among women with and without breast cancer. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, 30, 128-139.


Reid-Arndt, S. A., & Cox, C. R. (2012). Contributions of stress to cognitive deficits in women undergoing evaluation for breast cancer, and the mediating role of passive coping styles. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, 19, 127-137.


Reid-Arndt, S. A., Matsuda, S., & Cox, C. R. (2011). Tai Chi for cancer survivors: Potential benefits to cognitive abilities, emotional well-being, and balance. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 18, 26-30.


Reid-Arndt, S. A., & Cox, C. R. (2010). Social support seeking, depression, and quality of life among rural and urban women following treatment for breast cancer. The Journal of Rural Health, 26, 402-405.

Other Publications

Sculptures in Rows

Abeyta, A., Routledge, C., Kersten, M., & Cox, C. R. (2017). The existential cost of economic insecurity: Exploring the relationship between financial threat and perceptions of meaning in life. The Journal of Social Psychology, 6, 692-702.

Cox, C. R., Van Enkevort, E. A., Hicks, J., Kahn-Weintraub, M., & Morin, A. (2014). The relationship between alcohol cues, alcohol expectancies, and physical balance. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 22, 307-315.


Motyl, M., Hart, J., Pyszczynski, T., Weise,  D., Cox, C. R., Maxfield, M., & Siedel, A. (2011). Subtle priming of shared human experiences eliminates threat-induced negativity toward Arabs, immigrants, and peace-making. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 1179-1184.


Maxfield, M., Kluck, B., Cox, C. R., Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., & Solomon, S. (2007). Age-related difference in responses to thoughts of one’s own death:  Mortality salience and evaluations of moral transgressions. Psychology and Aging, 22, 341-353.


Wood, S., Busemeyer, J., Koling, A., Cox, C. R., & Davis, H. (2005). Older adults as adaptive decision-makers: Evidence from the gambling task. Psychology and Aging, 20, 220-225.


Pyszczynski, T., & Cox, C. R. (2004). Can we really do without self-esteem? A comment on Crocker and Park. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 425-429.


Goldenberg, J. L., Landau, M. J., Pyszczynski, T., Cox, C. R., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., & Dunnam, H. (2003). Sex-typical responses to sexual and emotional infidelity as a function of mortality salience induced self-esteem striving. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 1585-1595.


Goldenberg, J. L., Cox, C., Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., & Solomon, S. (2002). Understanding human ambivalence about sex: The effects of stripping sex of its meaning. Journal of Sex Research, 39, 310-320. 

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