Hero Projects

Researcher:  Hanna C. Ross

Description:  Hanna’s research has focused on the role of hero projects (i.e., culturally-valued legacies that will outlive our biological existence) – a unique behavioural response to mortality awareness that serve to quell fears and anxieties surrounding our impermanence. Terror Management Theory (TMT) suggests that everyone has some type of hero project, and people work really hard to achieve and defend these projects. But hero projects can come in many different shapes and sizes such as constructing infrastructure, writing books, or having children.

Specifically, Hanna has explored how hero projects may support or obstruct sustainability efforts such as water management and conservation. Her undergraduate research found mortality salience indicators in public statements from historical news articles before, during, and after the Hoover dam’s construction, indicating that the dam may have served as a remarkable – but unsustainable – water infrastructure hero-project for those involved in its installation.

Building off this idea of water-centric hero projects, Hanna’s master’s research explored whether it was appropriate to consider lawns as hero projects and conducted a mortality salience induction survey to measure mortality salience (awareness) effects on lawn watering intentions. Although she successfully conducted a TMT experiment in a non-clinical setting, mortality salience did not influence lawn watering intentions. However, this finding may have been the result of high-self esteem and strong environmental identity – two terror-managing buffers that reduce the need to activate defensive behaviours.

See: Ross, H.C., and S. E. Wolfe. (2021). "Terror Management Theory and Urban Water Decisions: Does Mortality Salience Influence Outdoor Residential Water Consumption?" The International Journal of Social Sustainability in Economic, Social, and Cultural Context 17 (2): 29-53. doi:10.18848/2325-1115/CGP/v17i02/29-53.

Drawing from social psychology and the theories of religious conversion, Hanna will use conversion theory to continue exploring the cognitive and emotional processes underpinning environmental identity adoption – and possibly adopting new sustainable hero projects – during her doctoral studies (starting in 2022).

Project Funding:  Funded through Wolfe’s Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) through their Insight Development Grant (2012: #430-2012-0264).