Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Don Forsyth, Ph.D, Jepson School of Leadership Studies

Second Advisor

Dr. George Goethals, Ph.D, Jepson School of Leadership Studies

Third Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Erkulwater, Ph.D, Department of Political Science


We conducted an experiment to assess the effect of presidential rhetoric in a time of crisis. Our study was based in part on terror management theory, which posits that subtle reminders of death (mortality salience) lead to increased support of leaders an authority figures. Subjects were randomly placed in either a mortality salient condition or control condition. We also composed two speeches - one charismatic and one non-charismatic - and subjects were randomly assigned to hear one of the two. Based on elements of terror management theory, we hypothesized that in a time of crisis the charismatic speech would be preferred to the non-charismatic speech and, in turn, the leader who gave the charismatic speech would receive more support than the leader who gave the non-charismatic speech. We also hypothesized that mortality salience would increase support for the leader, especially in the charismatic speech condition. Our results indicate listeners do identify and prefer the charismatic speaker. However, when mortality was salient, they strongly endorsed any type of leader - whether charismatic or non-charismatic. When mortality was not salient, then listeners were more sensitive to the charismatic quality of the leader; that is, the charismatic speaker was rated more positively than the non-charismatic speaker. The implications of these findings for leaders was discussed.