When Grades Really Are a Matter of Life and Death: Academic Entitlement from a Terror Management Perspective

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Psychology and Special Education

Date of Award

Spring 2014


Researchers have attributed the excessive entitlement of the Millennial Generation to our materialistic culture and the increased focus on the self that has its roots in the social changes of the 60s and 70s. However, this does not explain the sometimes aggressive behaviors of college students after receiving poor grades. Within the context of terror management theory, the current study posits that the timing of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, during a sensitive period in the development of self-concept, as well as the uncertainties associated with the continued threat of terrorism, makes this generational cohort especially susceptible to the effects of mortality salience (MS), and possibly terrorism salience as well. In materialistic cultures, status is based on wealth, while in an academic setting, grades provide status, as well as future potential net worth. The purpose of this study was to determine if attitudes of academic entitlement could represent a response to MS in an academic setting where grades equate to future net worth by testing the hypothesis that students would report higher levels of academic entitlement following a mortality prime. Another goal of the study was to determine if terrorism salience (TS) provoked a similar or different response than MS or the control condition. Participants N = 106) between the ages of 18 and 29 years responded to an online survey with priming items to evoke either MS or TS, followed by items that assessed attitudes of academic entitlement and general entitlement. Aggregate scores were analyzed with multivariate analysis of variance or the Kruskal–Wallis Test, depending on normality of the data. Findings indicated that, although there were differences in academic entitlement between groups, none were significant. However, significant differences were found between the MS and TS groups in correlation coefficients for self–esteem and academic entitlement, and graphical depictions demonstrated divergent curvilinear relationships.


Raymond Green

Subject Categories

Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences