Our Students in Action

Zach Hohman

Questioning Terror Management Theory, "How American Do You Feel?", and More

Doctoral student Zachary Hohman is taking on one of the long-accepted social psychological theories, with the backing of his advisor, Dr. Michael Hogg. “We’re looking at the underlying processes of Terror Management Theory, which is a very important theory in the field of social psychology,” he says. “The theory states that the fear of death is an underlying force behind people’s decision-making and day-to-day cognitive processes. According to the theory people fear death, and that fear makes them cling to their own culture as a way of creating a symbolic immortality. My hypothesis is that, rather than fear, the aversion to death is based on the uncertainty about the afterlife—no one knows what happens after you die.” Zach is studying how uncertainty about the afterlife effects how strongly people cling to their cultural identity.

This work questioning Terror Management Theory is only one of several research projects Zach has been working on since completing his Master’s degree in the spring. Also with Dr. Hogg, Zach has been looking at the difference between how Americans react to threat about and criticism of America. Participants are shown clippings, allegedly from articles or online blogs, criticizing or threatening U.S. policy from an outsider’s viewpoint. “We’re seeing if the clippings make them feel ‘more or less American,’” Zach explains, “Additionally how this affects their approval of different foreign policies. First we give them the clippings and them measure their identity and support for military and diplomatic foreign policies. We’re just starting with the data collection now.”

Finally, Zach continues to work in Dr. William Crano’s lab, studying the antecedents and outcomes of adolescent drug use. His excellent work on all of these projects led to Zach being named the Stuart Oskamp Fellow for 2008-09.