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Abdolhossein Abdollahi

Abdolhossein Abdollahi

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I am a psychologist primarily interested in terror management theory (TMT), a social psychological theory positing that much human social behavior is driven by the need of avoiding the conscious and unconscious thoughts of one's own death.

My most notable study was about how terror management processes (i.e., death reminders nonconscious activation) might affect the way people respond to real or perceived hostile outgroups threatening the reality of their cultural worldviews (e.g., religion). More specifically, when under the influence of death thoughts, both Iranian and American participants tended to react more aggressively toward such outgroups as the US and the West (for Iranians) and the US enemies (for Americans). That is, the same psychological inclinations that make them want to kill us make us want to kill them -- regardless of which specific group is referred to by the words "us" and "them." These experimental findings (published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 2006) received a high level of publicity in various scientific communities and the paper has been reprinted in an important book on terrorism entitled "Psychology of Terrorism: The Best Writings about the Mind of the Terrorist" edited by Jeff Victoroff and Arie Kruglanski.

In a related vein, recently my colleagues and I have published a paper in Current Directions in Psychological Science reviewing new studies indicating that the same underlying psychological processes that fuel aggression can, under certain conditions, promote peace. Our experiments show that one way to reach this goal is to prime our commonalities as human beings. That is, our humanity, our compassionate beliefs, and our humane relationships. This could be done using such simple procedures as exposing people to pictures illustrating compassionate scenes, quotes from religious books, etc.

In another relevant line of research, I have studied the effects of trauma exposure and dissociation on the functioning of participants' anxiety-buffering systems. The results of the study (published in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy) have led to introduction of a new theory my colleagues and I have called "Anxiety Buffer Disruption Theory (ABDT)." According to ABDT, individuals high in the tendency to dissociate in response to a traumatic event would be especially prone to a disruption in their anxiety buffering system, resulting in less worldview defense and more negative affect in responses to reminders of their mortality.

Still in another research domain, my colleagues and I have recently examined the role of young adults' parental attachment in terror management. Results of our studies (published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) revealed that activating thoughts of one's parent in response to mortality salience (MS) reduced death-thought accessibility and worldview defense and increased feelings of self-worth. Moreover, we found that MS led to greater ease of recalling positive maternal interactions and greater difficulty recalling negative interactions, and increased attraction to a stranger who was described as being similar to one's parent. Finally, the findings indicated that after MS, insecure individuals were more likely to rely on relationships with their parents, whereas secure individuals were more likely to rely on relationships with romantic partners.

My colleagues and I have also worked on demonstrating that the MS effects are actually context-dependent. That is, under certain circumstances, they may yield different results. Specifically, in a new study, we have shown that when participants are primed with a combination of mortality salience and compassionate religious values, their tendency to support violent solutions to the current conflict in the Middle East would be attenuated. These findings suggest that hope for reducing religious violence in the world today is unlikely to come from secular pressure, but rather, is likely to depend on the religious community highlighting the core compassionate teachings of love and acceptance.

In the context of TMT, I have published several other papers and articles on terrorism, political extremism, martyrdom, attachment, common humanity, compassion, and social consensus in such journals as Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Current Directions in Psychological Science, and Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression. Also, in April 2009, the Association for Psychological Science (APS) named me as a rising star in psychological science (APS Observer, Volume 22, Number 4):

I am on the editorial boards of the following journals:

(1) Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences (2008-present)

(2) Journal of Social Psychology (2008-2017)

(3) Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression (2008-present)

I am an ad hoc reviewer for the following journals:

(1) Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
(2) Basic and Applied Social Psychology
(3) European Journal of Social Psychology
(4) Social Psychology
(5) Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology
(6) Journal of Peace Research
(7) Peace and Conflict: The Journal of Peace Psychology
(8) Political Psychology

I have a blog entitled "Terror Management" on the Psychology Today Magazine website which represents the latest findings and theorizing on TMT.

I am also interested in such areas as false memory, judgment and decision making, evolutionary psychology, social cognition, and social embodiment.

Primary Interests:

  • Aggression, Conflict, Peace
  • Attitudes and Beliefs
  • Culture and Ethnicity
  • Judgment and Decision Making
  • Motivation, Goal Setting
  • Social Cognition

Journal Articles:

Other Publications:

Courses Taught:

  • Adolescent Development
  • Advanced Data Analysis
  • Behavior Modification
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Cognition
  • Cultures of Psychology
  • Motivation and Emotion
  • Problem Solving & Decision Making
  • Professional Skills in Psychology
  • Psychology & Social Issues
  • Social Influence & Attitude Change
  • Social Psychology

Abdolhossein Abdollahi

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