Terror Management Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory housed in the Department of Psychology and The School of Communication Studies at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Led by principal investigator, Dr. Lindsey Harvell-Bowman, this lab focuses its research around extending Terror Management Theory.

What is Terror Management Theory? 

Terror Management Theory (TMT) is a psychological theory concerning the psychological effects of thinking about death. TMT, founded by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski at the University of Kansas in the late 1980s, posits that there is a basic psychological conflict that results from having a desire to live but knowing that death is inevitable. This conflict can produce debilitating terror that has to be managed in some way. The main way this is handled is through the adherence to a cultural worldview (e.g., religion, belief in an afterlife, political affiliations, national identity, etc.). A cultural worldview offers symbolic immortality by 1) providing a sense that you are part of something greater that will ultimately outlive you or 2)your cultural worldview makes you feel superior to others not like you. These worldviews are the foundation for one’s self-esteem – a concept the theory argues as being the personal, subjective measure of how well an individual is living up to his/her cultural worldview. The number of close relationships one has also plays a role in management of death anxiety – the more you feel attached to others, the easier it is to handle the idea that you will some day be dead.

What kinds of research has this lab completed? 

The research in this lab is focused mainly on extending Terror Management Theory, and that is accomplished in various ways. We have completed research on flight anxiety, political messaging, paranormal beliefs, and suicide. This is just a small sample of what we have done. To see all of our research, please click on the Research Projects tab above.

What does participation look like in this lab?

For those that have not participated in a lab experience at JMU, we will begin you at PSYC 203 (1-3 credit hours). Advanced Terror Management Lab is PSYC 403 (1-3 credit hours). We also have availability in the School of Communication Studies through SCOM 390A (at the level of PSYC 203 – 1-3 credit hours). We have some lab members that started taking this lab for credit, and then moved to a no credit option for the experience. Therefore, if you want to take the lab for no credit, we can do that as well.

What semesters does this lab run? 

Our lab is active in the Fall and Spring semesters. We shut down during the summer for data collection. However, over the summer we are often working on papers and conference submissions.






JMU Alum, John Panetti, presenting at the National Communication Association in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania






Interested to see where our past lab members have ended up? Check out some of our recent graduates!

Taylor Asgard – Taylor graduated from James Madison University in 2018 with a BA in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Interpersonal Communication and a Minor in Educational Media. After graduation, Taylor attended and is currently a second-year student at the University of South Florida’s College Student Affairs program. She holds a Graduate Assistantship in the Office of Leadership and Student Organizations at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Currently, Taylor is working at an internship at Emory University with pre-college residence life. She is using many skills she learned both from the SCOM department, as well as the lab. She has learned to discuss tough topics, ask relevant questions, and serve as a compassionate resource to others while speaking to them. Taylor was one of our original SCOM lab members.

Hailey Brill – After graduating with her B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Criminal Justice from James Madison University in 2018, Haley is currently working in Probation and Parole. Haley is using her education to work with those with severe mental illness who are currently experiencing the criminal justice system.

Kaitlin Traynor – After graduating with her B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Music from James Madison University in 2018, she moved to Colchester, Vermont to pursue a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Saint Michael’s College. While there, she has participated in a practicum placement, College Steps, as a peer mentor assisting individuals with learning differences. She has worked on several research projects with the director of her graduate program. In Spring 2020, Kaitlin will graduate with a double master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is currently working at the Youth Service Bureau in Montpelier, Vermont helping at-risk youth in middle and high schools. Her thesis examines death anxiety in individuals who have attempted or contemplated suicide, a topic close to her heart from the work she completed while in the lab. Kaitlin was one of our original lab members.




Data crunching in the lab




Ciara White – Ciara graduated in Spring 2018 with a B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Family Studies. She is entering her second year of the M.S.Ed Counseling and Human Services program with an emphasis on Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Old Dominion University with an expected graduation in Summer 2020. Since beginning this program, she has been able to enhance her interviewing skills that were first introduced in the lab. Her lab experiences prepared her well for her work as a clinician. During Fall 2019, Ciara will be interning at Pembroke 6, a substance abuse and mental health agency in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She is currently a Graduate Research Assistant for the Center for High Impact Practices at Old Dominion where she supervises Peer Academic Coaches, advise current students to help them succeed academically, and work with high school students to assist them with their transition out of high school and into college. The Terror Management Lab is still on her resumé today and is often the first thing that interviewers are interested in. Ciara was one of our original lab members.

Fabrice Ndzana – Fabrice graduated from James Madison University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, where he obtained his Master’s and Ed.S. in Clinical Counseling in 2017. Fabrice is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a cognate in neuropsychological assessment at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. As a doctoral student at Ball State, Fabrice is the recipient of the health professions scholarship program (HPSP) offered by the United States Military (US Air Force). Fabrice is currently a reserve in the US Air Force and will be serving as active duty upon graduation within the biomedical sciences corps as a military psychologist.

Cyrus Rohani-Shukla – Cyrus graduated with a B.S. in Psychology in 2017 from James Madison University. He is currently enrolled in the Premedical Graduate Certificate program at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to attend medical school. Cyrus was one of our original lab members.

Kathleen Springer – Kathleen graduated with a degree in Psychology in 2017 from Bridgewater College. She has been serving as a caregiver at Innesfree Village, a therapeutic community for adults with developmental disabilities.


Original lab members presenting research at the Psychology Symposium and the SCOM Conference