Terror Management Theory and Urban Water Decisions

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Terror Management Theory (TMT) researchers have demonstrated that existential threats consistently trigger individuals’ defensive responses. Two core responses are worldview protection and self-esteem bolstering through “hero projects.” We used TMT to investigate whether water consumption intentions could be defensive responses to existential anxiety. To test our hypotheses, we selected a single, common watering practice in urban Canadian neighborhoods: residential lawn watering. Residential lawns have high hero project potential because they are easily evaluated, publicly visible and typically socially accepted and valued. We also accounted for other potential moderating or predictor variables—lawn preference, environmental identity, and self-esteem—to assess whether they influenced mortality awareness effects on lawn watering behavior. Using either a randomly assigned mortality-salience or a control induction survey on a non-representative sample, we measured mortality salience effects on participants’ self-reported lawn watering intentions. Our findings revealed new predictive variables and provide municipal practitioners and policy makers with a deeper understanding of the cognitive and social psychological processes underpinning residential consumers’ water decisions. Understanding the role of existential anxiety in water use decisions will help municipal water practitioners design novel and implement effective approaches to decrease water demand.