Jeff Schimel
Associate Professor

Mail: Department of Psychology 
University of Alberta 
Edmonton, Alberta 
T6G 2E9 
Office Address BS-P319J 
Office Phone: (780) 492-5280 
Departmental FAX: (780) 492-1768 

Degree Date Obtained Location
Ph.D.  2000  University of Arizona, Tucson Arizona
M.A.  1997  University of Colorado, Colorado Springs 
B.A.  1993  University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) 


Click here for a list of my published work.

Although I am a social psychologist, my theoretical perspective is existential/psychodynamic. My research is focused on issues related to self-esteem and psychological defenses, and can be derived from each of the broad theoretical frameworks below.

Terror management theory (TMT):
The research questions that have always captured my interest have to do with cultural worldviews, self-esteem, and the great lengths that people go to defend and maintain these psychological structures. In the course of my scholarly career I have found that terror management theory (TMT; Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991) provides an unusually broad framework for examining these questions. Terror management theory, which is derived largely from the writings of Ernest Becker (1971; 1973; 1975), posits that cultural belief systems and the self-esteem motive evolved, in part, because of the existential dilemma that humans are thrust into from birth. Humans are born with a basic instinct for self-preservation but also possess the unique cognitive ability to be aware of their own mortality. This conflict between a desire to live and the knowledge that this desire will eventually give way to death, created the potential for debilitating anxiety that humans had to keep at bay if they were to live and thrive. According to TMT, humans solved this dilemma through the construction and maintenance of cultural belief systems, which provide people with an explanation of human existence, standards and values to live by, and a promise of death transcendence for those who live up to the standards and values of their cultural worldview.  Self-esteem is, therefore, the belief that one is a valuable member of a meaningful conception of reality, and this belief in oneself functions to protect people from deeply rooted fear. In support of TMT, my colleagues and I have conducted research showing that subtle reminders of death increase people's need to defend their cultural worldview and engage in activities that bolster their sense of self-worth.

The death-thought accessibility hypothesis
. Not too long ago, my students and I proposed and tested what we call, the death thought accessibility (DTA) hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, if a particular psychological structure (e.g., faith in the cultural worldview and self-esteem) functions to protect people from thoughts and concerns about death, then weakening these psychological structures should allow thoughts about death to creep closer to consciousness. Thus far we have conducted research showing that when people’s cherished cultural values and personal bases of self-worth are attacked, or merely come into question, death thoughts (vs. other kinds of negative thoughts) do indeed come closer to awareness. My students and I are investigating several variants of this hypothesis as well, for example, that substantial threats to people’s sense of predictability and control make thoughts of death more accessible. We are also investigating the relationship between DTA and the experience of anxiety, and the possibility that the unconscious accessibility of death-related thoughts mediate defensive reactions to worldview and self-esteem threat.

Bases of self-esteem:
In addition to my work within the TMT framework, I (together with my colleagues) have advanced the idea that some bases of self-esteem may be more fragile and defensive than others. Specifically, we have proposed that extrinsically based self-worth, which is derived from conditionally accepting relationships and living up to other-determined standards, requires increased vigilance and psychological defense.  In contrast, intrinsically based self-worth, which is gained from unconditionally accepting relationships and engaging in self-determined activities, requires less monitoring and psychological defense. In a nutshell, intrinsically based self-worth carries less psychological baggage than extrinsically based self-worth. Some of my previous work in this area has demonstrated that shifting people to an intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) basis of self-worth reduces a variety of defensive reactions such as self-handicapping, conformity, downward social comparison, and psychological distancing from social misfits. More recently I have been investigating the role of different bases of self-esteem in people's performance on threatening cognitive tasks and evaluative social interactions. I am also working to develop a trait measure of the extent to which peoples' self-worth is more intrinsically vs. extrinsically based. <>

Last Updated: Tuesday, June 30, 2006
© Department of Psychology, University of Alberta