Understanding & Exploring The Terror Management Theory

Last Update on October 20, 2023 : Published on October 21, 2023
Understanding & Exploring The Terror Management Theory

The fear of death is something most of us have experienced at least once in our lives. The terror these feelings or mortality create in our minds is too intense. It has the capacity to destroy an individual’s mental peace. 

The Hamas-Israel situation is all over the news. The terror of death and separation haunts many people. What if it happens to us? What if we can’t protect our families? The terror of death moves in our minds and bodies like slow poison and destroys our sense of security and peace. 

It is very important for all of us to understand how terror management works. It is important that we learn how to manage the fear and terror of death. You don’t want to lose a loved one nor do you want to leave them and go. 

This fear of death can easily make people anxious. Therefore, it is important to understand terror management theory so that you know how things work in your mind.

What Is Terror Management Theory?

The terror management theory states that when we are faced with our fear of death, we tend to create cultural worldviews that give meaning to our lives. Worldviews like cultural or spiritual beliefs, finding purpose or meaning in your life, etc. 

According to terror management theory, individuals tend to adopt certain beliefs that help them cope with the fear of death. These beliefs differ from culture to culture, for example, some take a spiritual path and some choose to find the purpose of their life so that they don’t waste their life. 

The idea is to attain immortality, even if it is symbolic. What terror management theory says is that when you think about death a lot, most of your life choices revolve around your fear/terror of death. 

History & Present Of Terror Management Theory

The Terror management theory was first introduced and developed by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski in 1986. It is said that the foundation of their theory is based on a death anxiety book released in 1973, authored by  Ernest Becker, a cultural anthropologist. 

They believed that humans have an innate urge to protect themselves and that the awareness of death can make them feel vulnerable. Therefore, they need to cling to a safety net or something that gives them hope and reduces the terror of death. This hope and belief comes from the cultural worldviews they have developed as a means to manage terror. 

Is terror management theory applicable today as well? Let’s find out…

There has been plenty of research that proves that terror management theory is prominent even today.  There have been so many death-threat experiences we have all had in the recent past like the mass shooting incident, COVID-19, etc. 

In fact, according to  2021 research, it was observed that because of the death threat created by the COVID-19 pandemic, people chose to make different life choices and acted differently to protect themselves. 

Different Types Of Terror Management Theories (Across Disciplines)

1. Social Psychology

According to social psychology, terror management theory can be understood as an explanation of how human’s awareness about death being inevitable is more than animals. Therefore, this awareness has a huge influence on our cultural worldviews, self-esteem, and interpersonal relationships. These three factors help you buffer your terror of death.

2. Sociology

According to sociology, the terror management theory is slightly different. Although it does state that the awareness of death makes people find meaning and life and engage in purposeful actions. It also states that people can develop stereotypes or problematic thinking patterns when faced with death. For example, in an act of terrorism, the general public begins to believe that all those belonging to the cultural background of the terrorist are also terrorists. 

3. Anthropology

According to anthropology, terror management theory has taken its roots from the book “The Denial of Death.” This book is about death anxiety, written by Ernest Becker. In anthropology, it is believed that the more people are aware of their death, the more likely they are to experience the terror of death. This terror of death makes them run away from the source of fear to protect themselves and reduce their anxious response to terror. 

Examples of Terror Management Theory

  1. When your awareness of death is more, you tend to make better decisions for your health. Go on regular health checkups, eat healthy, live a healthy life, etc. You make these conscious decisions in order to reduce your death anxiety. 
  2. You incline towards your religion and develop some spiritual beliefs that bring meaning to your life. Many religious teachings make you believe in an afterlife; therefore, your decisions are greatly influenced by that. 

That’s All Folks!

I hope you found this blog about terror management theory helpful, interesting, and informative. Do share this blog with your friends and family so that we all can understand how our mind works when faced with the fear of death and how it influences our actions.

Thanks for reading.

Take care and stay safe.

About The Author

Kirti Bhati
Kirti Bhati

I am an English literature (major) and psychology (minor) graduate from St. Bede’s College, Shimla. Postgraduate in Clinical psychology from IIS University, Jaipur. She has published a Research paper on Music therapy in the military population and Workplace stress in a national seminar conducted by Fortis hospital (gurugram) and international seminar conducted by St. Bede’s College, Shimla, Respectively. Authored a dissertation work on ‘effect of social media addiction on the mental and physical well-being in adolescents’ Currently working at calm sage as a writer.

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