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date: 18 October 2019

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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