Summary and Keywords
Terror management theory (TMT) posits that the uniquely human awareness of death engenders potentially debilitating existential terror that is “managed” by subscribing to cultural worldviews providing a sense that life has meaning as well as opportunities to obtain self-esteem, in pursuit of psychological equanimity in the present and literal or symbolic immortality in the future. In empirical support of TMT, research has demonstrated that: self-esteem serves to buffer anxiety in general, and about death in particular; reminders of death increase defense of the cultural worldview and efforts to bolster self-esteem; threats to the cultural worldview or self-esteem increase the accessibility of implicit death thoughts; conscious and non-conscious thoughts of death instigate qualitatively different defensive processes; death reminders increase hostility toward people with different beliefs, affection for charismatic leaders, and support for political and religious extremism; and death reminders magnify symptoms of psychological disorders.
Keywords: terror management theory, Ernest Becker, death, meaning, cultural worldviews, self-esteem, mortality salience, cultural worldview defense, death-thought accessibility, proximal and distal defenses
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