Talk:Terror management theory/Archive 1

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wtf is weltanschauung?

The link directs to "world view" so that's probably what it means. I have no idea why the german word is used in the article though. Poktirity 23:38, 27 November 2006 (UTC)
In academic writing and literary criticism, the term "weltanschauung" is often used for a person or group's overall philosophy or outlook on the world, it implies something rahter more comprehensive and all-encompassing than the english "world view". See wittionary's entry. Like "Gestalt" and manyu other German-derived technical, scientific, and philosophical terms, this has entered at least technical english. DES (talk) 14:59, 27 July 2007 (UTC)

Do we have any references of this theory anywhere? Right now, it looks uncomfortably like a largely-ignored pet theory. 23:32, 25 July 2007 (UTC)

See this google scholar search DES (talk) 14:59, 27 July 2007 (UTC)

To the contrary, TMT is one of the most widely researched and well-validated research paradigms/theories in Social Psychology. Naysayers and skeptics should conduct an EBSCO (or Google Scholar) keyword search for "Terror Management Theory" or "Mortality Salience." (talk) 05:55, 24 January 2008 (UTC)

Slightly related, the article says "Experiments supporting the two hypotheses above have been conducted in the US, Canada, Israel, Japan and the Netherlands." I have in my hand right now a research article studying mortality salience in Bielfield, Germany and the in the US so maybe Germany should be added? The title is "Whistling in the Dark: Exaggerated Consensus Estimates in Response to Incidental Reminders of Mortality" by Tom Pyszczynski et al, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, University of Bielefield Germany, Skidmore College, and University of Arizona. The two studies (in the US and in Germany) asked randomly selected passerby's a couple politically related questions 100m before passing a funeral home, 100m after passing a funeral home, and at the funeral home (with subjects physically facing the funeral home but having it out of view at the other two locations). (talk) 16:19, 13 March 2009 (UTC)

Is this a paper?

Because of the copious references to books, it appears to be a university paper half-converted to a Wikipedia article. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:26, 2 November 2009 (UTC)

I agree, this is a horrible article, and an even worst discussion page. This is an encyclopaedia, why are we arguing about the merits of the theory. Secondly, the article contains many factual innacuracies and conceptual misrepresentations; I don't know why we are arguing about the merits of the theory on the discussion page when it is not even presented correctly.

The bulk of the theory comes directly from Becker, the acknowledgment of Freud, Rank, and (in the article) "the paradox" (which is really the "Existential Paradox" found in Kierkegaard by Becker in the denial of death.

also, the theory does not talk about ideas of religiosity and mysticism directly, these are secondary. TMT is all about self-esteem and culture. Religion, mysticism, metaphysics, and cosmology are all components of human cultures. The point is the consciousness of our finitude leads us adopt an attitude of 'heroism', we want to be meaningful participants in a meaningful culture. Why? because culture survives us, it gives us a symbolic immortality (language is very important here for TMT researchers AND Becker). Religion becomes important simply because it is a potent source of heroism, and it is a cultural factor that varies geographically with a strong tradition in all human societies (the entire theory rests on Becker's cultural anthropology). It stands to reason that the presence of other cultures is a threat to our own (and therefore a threat to our symbolic immortality); this, Sam Keen argues, is Becker's "Science of Evil".

Also this theory is primarily not concerned with explicit threats to life (as mentioned in the article). This is a misrepresentation that leads to the banalization of Becker, and of an outright strawman rejection of these theories. Reminders of death permeate the environment; these effects are unconscious! Funeral homes, Cemeteries, Hospitals, Illness, Aging; the importance of symbolic representation cannot be separated from an interpretation of this theory.

I've been using Becker for 3 years, and I conducted an empirical TMT study for my Honours thesis in psychology (with TMT lit. review); I know the theory in and out. This is an Encyclopaedia article, please don't argue with me about the merits of the theory (well you can, but do it on my talk page), but feel free to correct me on my interpretation (for the article). The points I make here are just mistakes I have seen in passing over the article. I would love to improve it but i don't want to put some time into it if there are interested editors who will just revert the changes. I think we should all start collaborating on an exposition of this theory and not a discussion about it. If you guys agree let me know and I'll start suggesting some changes on this discussion page... Pessimistic Realist (talk) 07:15, 28 June 2010 (UTC)

"the one gain"?

I don't understand this phrase from the 3rd paragraph: "...a place where the one gain rests their hopes on symbolic immortality..." It reads like a passage copied incorrectly from another source. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:20, 21 May 2008 (UTC)


The result was keep. Bearian 14:54, 1 August 2007 (UTC)

lack of empiricism

"Unlike other biological species, humans are the only creatures who are aware of their own inevitability of death." - and this has been empirically proven how?

---> That does not matter! It was a common view when the theory developed, and is still a contended issue. This is an article about what TMT researchers think and argue, you clearely disagree with the theory, but that has nothing to do with an encyclopedia article.Pessimistic Realist (talk) 07:21, 28 June 2010 (UTC)

Added some criticism to Becker's Denial of Death page which could be useful here as well... would like to see what is there already cleaned up and cited first though. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:56, 5 October 2007 (UTC) ----> You added criticisms about the accuracy of the article's representation of Becker's theory? or about the merits of Becker's theory? If the latter is true, you might want to just start posting on philosophy forums. I don't have the courage to go look.Pessimistic Realist (talk) 07:21, 28 June 2010 (UTC)

I agree - where's the evidence for that statement? I've heard some theories that animals do sense their own inevitability of death. For example, cows try to turn away when being led to a slaughter house, and how else can the fight-or-flight response be accounted for within "other biological species"? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:18, 17 December 2010 (UTC)

Just recently (April 2010), in the journal Current Biology, researchers published findings that suggst that chimpanzees grieve and acknowledge (but not understand) death by observing the behavior of a mother's two offspring and "partner" after her passing. Looks like we're not the only ones to experience mortality salience. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:14, 18 December 2010 (UTC)


Much of the latter part of this article reads like advocacy for TMT. Although I happen to believe that TMT is a good and useful theory with much supporting evidence, I think the article needs to be edited to provide a more dispassionate treatment of the subject to meet Wikipedia's neutral point of view policy. -- Gigacephalus 11:46, 9 November 2007 (UTC)


Animals are born with instincts. They have a predetermined notion that jumping from a cliff might not be good. Humans have these similar instincts, however they are aware that death is a possible result of the fall. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:06, 29 December 2007 (UTC)

And how do you know that animals are not aware that death is a possible result of the fall? Dlabtot (talk) 05:39, 5 January 2008 (UTC)
I don't think that the animal knows it will die of old age if nothing else. cyclosarin (talk) 12:21, 17 June 2009 (UTC)

actually elephants have mass graves and studies show that they willingly go there to die when they "fell they will die", meaning they KNOW THEY WILL DIE. in my opinion animals are aware of death but we humans have a different understanding of it. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:20, 22 August 2009 (UTC)

Why are we arguing about this? The theory was developed in light of the phenomenon of knowing we will one day die (projected consciousness, which Greenberg attributes to Heidegger, probably incorrectly). To say that only human beings have this ability is simply a rhetorical technique that was used at a time when such a thing was 'common sense'. There is a lot of merit in bringing this assumption to explicit scrutny; however, it does not matter here, and it does not render the theory obsolete.Pessimistic Realist (talk) 07:27, 28 June 2010 (UTC)


This article is curiously devoid of references -- our style of references.

I started to do some work improving the references -- when it struck me that these are hints that an article might be a {{copyvio}}.

So, why is it devoid of references? Geo Swan (talk) 01:41, 19 January 2008 (UTC)

Experiments supporting the theory

I think that up to date, already more than 300 experiments support the theory <but those "experiments may be of very poor quality —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:19, 17 January 2009 (UTC)

Yeah the count is probably much higher than 300 today, There are at least 1 or 2 articles on TMT being published in the JPSP every volume (an APA journal). They may appear to be of poor quality to those who are used to biopsych articles, but this is not new... Every social psych theory has been called "poor" by some researcher throughout the history of the discipline. The methodology is different, it has its weaknesses and strenghts... Pessimistic Realist (talk) 07:32, 28 June 2010 (UTC)

a rationale for the motivational catalysts of human behavior

"a rationale for the motivational catalysts of human behavior "

I can give no clear meaning to this phrase ( and I have heard Ilya Prigione lecture on catalysts and myself have taught college courses in adolescent behavior )

I have added notes to the Ernest Becker page detailing the unscientific hoopla in his book (regardless of its winning a Pulitzer - a P. Prize is NOT a social scientific or medical imprimatur)

I have met one psychologist who was a follower - rather like meeting followers of Ayn Rand with their particular disregard of philosophy, psychology, history and economics.

Had E.B. lived he might have rivaled L. Ron Hubbard with a "Church of Repressed Heroism".

The view that all culture is religion either redefines culture or religion or both. They are not philosophical categories let alone psychoanalytic concepts to define to suit the symptoms: they are as useful as we permit them to be in distinguishing what features cut across which societies across time and which practices have the requisite family of features which distinguish some ritual as a religious practice and some as not religious, etc etc

Persons convinced by "Denial of Death" need to shed their homophobia, learn some psychiatry, and visit a country such as Vietnam which does not fit the Rank/Fromm mold (Becker seems curiously ignorant of differences between Freud's Vienna and Kierkegaard's Copenhagen - which is odd in a cultural anthropologist.)

Demographics also contradict assertions presented as fact in the book which conflate the practice of psychotherapy with the practice of psychiatry (which a sociologist might have avoided.)

Ranks students were awed by their master, which may not have been his intent.

The absence of Binswanger, Jaspers and Dostoievsky from "Denial of Death" is baffling - not to mention Heidegger in the extensive reliance on Tillich.

Overall, Becker is a bad mix of wholesale adoption of neo-Freudian doctrine and dubious protestant theology - which leads me to wonder if "a rationale for the motivational catalysts of human behavior " is not more in the same pseudo-scientific self-serving vein.

I cannot see much in Becker to "disprove" as many of his claims are non-refutatable/indefeasible theory dressed as facts with his extensive use of "seems" etc etc —Preceding unsigned comment added by Grshiplett (talkcontribs) 00:02, 2 March 2010 (UTC)

irrelevant, but nonetheless: death

I feel that I should add that I have 3 times faced the prospect of death - once in a river, once in a demolished vehicle (no seat-belt, no airbag, multiple fractures) in a deep rocky ravine and once when abducted by two gunmen and taken to a dark, secluded spot to be killed (knocked to my knees, told to beg for my life, pistol barrels pressed against the back of my head - after one nickel-plated semi-A was cocked in my face, making a memorable tiny blue spark in the dark.) Nothing in these experiences has changed my view of E.B.'s book, the "psychology of death" or the claims by Medard Boss on fear. My one experience with torture leaves me utterly opposed to the use of torture although I have had to listen to military braggarts retelling their exploits of interrogating the victims of "scouting" missions abducted for "military information gathering".

While this is strictly irrelevant, the backers of E.B. are very big on their personal "insights".-> Not the actual researchers, only the layman Beckerian. Any serious Beckerian knows that its absurd to justify a theory of the unconscious using personal experience....Pessimistic Realist (talk) 07:58, 28 June 2010 (UTC)

I would like to say that when told to beg for my life at gunpoint by reputed killers (their modus operandi in the area were known), I concluded the brutal attackers (only one was masked) were most likely raised Christian and did my best to recite the "Lord's Prayer" thinking they might recall a lecture from a grandmother on "thou shalt not kill [kidnap and murder]"

Women - especially psychologists - who have been raped at knife-point or gunpoint are also likely to differ with the published views of E.B. ->They would be mis-reading Becker, His research has nothing to do with violent crimes, or sexual offences...Pessimistic Realist (talk) 07:55, 28 June 2010 (UTC)

The days and hours that I have spent sitting with dying in hospice have also not changed my view that those afraid to live were [paradoxically !?!?] those most afraid to die - this was no more than a clever quip by Medard Boss and not phenomenologically confirmed within either adolescent psychiatry or gerontology or the experience of paliative-care nurses with lucid child cancer victims. The "I was afraid to live" has been repeated as a Hollywood cliché by script writers with no experience in thanatology [ I was once consulted by a Pasadena script writer on Nietzsche's view of death, but casual improvisation with what is "known" to sophomores is more the norm. ] —Preceding unsigned comment added by Grshiplett (talkcontribs) 00:38, 2 March 2010 (UTC)

I sympathize with these near death experiences; however, it shows a great deal of missunderstanding of Becker theory. E.g. televised military caskets or scenes of suicide bomb carnage=relevent to Becker...Treating a soldier for PTSD who got shot in the arm and saw his friends head blow up NOT AT ALL WITHIN BECKER'S THEORY. Some aspects may be relevent, but they would be secondary (if used) within a larger existential or humanistic paradigm, like Rogers or Frankl. Even at that, it would not be used, because there are much better paradigms and techniques for the treatement of trauma. The problem with Becker is that he was not a psychologist, he was trained as an Existentialist (philosopher) and then a cultural anthropologist. The best way I could put it is that Becker's theory is not about abnormal psychology (a clinical term, don't be insulted, I dislike this label too). TMT researchers simply set out to confirm the ideas in Becker that are empirically verifiable, they too have nothing to do with abnormal psychology or psychotherapy. (this is a tad misleading, Becker did write a book on psychotherapy, he saught to give an account of transference in terms of existential ego-psychology as opposed to a psychodynamic perspective, but it has nothing to do with TMT, and is only marginally important to Becker's overall work).Pessimistic Realist (talk) 07:55, 28 June 2010 (UTC)

personal stories, nothing more

A proclamation of being comfortable recounting ones personal experiences with death cannot possibly be a valuable contribution to a scientific theory. Does Terror Management Theory not simply explain why, how and where we would tell said story, thus supporting the theory? How does one feel when they boast their experiences prior to their upcoming death... silly —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:43, 29 May 2010 (UTC)

Actually, it would not predict why and where you would tell your story (this would be absurd). It would be a stretch to say it would explain 'how'. TMT basically states that unconscious reminders of death will result in less acceptance of cultural difference and stronger defence reaction of ones system of values. The first level of defence is simply ignoring the other culture (or immortality project), i.e. we walk around in complete ignorance of the value of other cultures (a basic postulation in anthropology). The second level is bannalization, e.g. "what does the african know, he dosent own a TV and he prays to the sun God" The third level is assimilation, e.g. Religious conversion (if you can convert someone that is a HUGE 'validation' of your culture, i.e. your immortality project) a more fun example is blue jeans... They were originally used by workers, then it was assimilated into the hippy culture in a show of solidarity, it was then assimilated within the larger scope of capitalist value system (we now have designer jeans). The cultural significance is lost through assimilation at each step. The fourth level is the most important. This is what TMT researchers call 'annihilation'. Basically it is at this level that most religious (cultural) wars arise: e.g. "the only good Arab is a dead Arab"...Think of the suicide bomber, who believes he is blowing himself up in order to join Alah in heaven (transcending his finitude)...

I know, it sounds outrageous to scientists, but this does not make it "silly", such statements make you seem incredibly pretentious.Pessimistic Realist (talk) 08:17, 28 June 2010 (UTC)

Göring Quote

Somehow this needs to be incorporated: Herman gave away the game at Nuremberg:

Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars. Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:34, 30 November 2010 (UTC)

Format of the article

It is my opinion that the 'terror management theory' section of the article needs to be broken down in to sub-headings. The literature relating to TMT and self-esteem (although only touched upon here) is substantial and is worthy of a section of it's own. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Adampegler90 (talkcontribs) 23:27, 5 January 2011 (UTC)

This article is a mess. It needs to be rewritten. Wanna help? --Moni3 (talk) 00:02, 6 January 2011 (UTC)

Lead overhaul

Someone added a lead too long template--without rewriting it himself--which is one of my absolute favorite possible non-actions taken around here. So I was WP:BOLD and rewrote the lead.

Below is what I removed. Anything more than 4 paragraphs in the longest of long articles is too long. I obviously removed the lead too long template, but I also removed the 2007 NPOV template, because a 4-year-old template is ridiculous. Explain what needs to be fixed and fix it.

Terror management theory (TMT) is a theory within psychology that focuses on the impact of the 'uniquely human awareness of mortality'[1]on a number of psychological phenomena including self-esteem, structuring of the social world and emotion. Empirical support for TMT has originated from more than 175 published experiments which have been conducted cross-culturally both nationally and internationally (Solomon, 2004).

The theory was first developed in the late 1980s by Skidmore College psychology professor Sheldon Solomon, University of Arizona psychology professor Jeff Greenberg, and Colorado University at Colorado Springs psychology professor Tom Pyszczynski, who were graduate students at the University of Kansas at the time. The trio were inspired by the theories of Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death, 1973), Otto Rank and Freud, on how potent reminders of one's own ultimate death often provoke a belief in some form of mystical transcendence (heaven, reincarnation, spiritualism, etc.) Terror management theory attempts to provide a rationale for the motivational catalysts of human behavior when life is threatened.

The theory builds from the assumption that the capability of self-reflection and the consciousness of one’s own mortality can be regarded as a continuous source for existential anguish. This "irresolvable paradox" is created from the desire to preserve life and the realization of that impossibility (because life is finite).

Humans are aware of the inevitability of their own death. Culture diminishes this psychological terror by providing meaning, organization and continuity to people's lives. Compliance with cultural values enhances one's feeling of security and self-esteem, provided that the individual is capable of living in accordance with whatever particular cultural standards apply to him or her. The belief in the rightness of the cultural values and standards creates the conviction necessary to live a reasonable and meaningful life. This cultural worldview provides a base of making sense of the world as stable and orderly, a place where one rests their hopes on symbolic immortality (e.g., fame, having children, legacies of wealth or fortune) or literal immortality (e.g., the promise of a life in an afterworld).

One's cultural world view is a "symbolic protector" between the reality of life and inevitability of death. Because of this men and women strive to have their cultural worldview confirmed by others, thereby receiving the community’s esteem. However, when one’s worldview is threatened by the world view of another, it often results in one’s self-respect being endangered as well. In such a situation, people not only endeavour to deny or devalue the importance of others' world views but also try to refute the ideas and opinions of others which may, as a consequence, escalate into a conflict. As a result, mortality salience increases stereotypic thinking and intergroup bias between groups.

Two hypotheses have emerged from TMT research; the mortality salience hypothesis and the anxiety-buffer hypothesis. The mortality salience hypothesis says that if cultural worldviews and self-esteem provide protection from the fear of death, then reminding people of the root of that fear will increase the needs of individuals to value their own cultural worldview and self-esteem. The anxiety-buffer hypothesis provides the rationale that self-esteem is a buffer which serves to insulate humans from death. By doing so a person's self-esteem allows them to deny the susceptibility to a short-term life. Experiments supporting the two hypotheses above have been conducted in the US, Canada, Israel, Japan and the Netherlands. (Williams, Schimel and Gillespie, 2006).

Developing from the analysis of authoritative leadership by Erich Fromm (1941) in Escape from Freedom, people in a state of emotional distress by nature are prone to the allure of charismatic leaders. Research has shown that people, when reminded of their own inevitable death, will cling more strongly to their cultural worldviews. The data appears to show that nations or persons who have experienced traumas are more attracted to strong leaders who express traditional, pro-establishment, authoritarian viewpoints. They will also be hyper-aware of the possibility of external threats, and may be more hostile to those who threaten them. Additional research indicates those who are raised by authoritarian parents tend to conform to authority more frequently than those who are not.[citation needed] This perpetuates the belief that culture worldviews are a product of the socialization process and those who are socialized through authority are more susceptible to conformity when their mortality is made salient.

The theory gained media attention in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and after the re-election of President George W. Bush in the USA, Prime Minister Tony Blair in the UK, and John Howard in Australia.

Terror management researchers have shown that making mortality salient to research participants will lead to such changes in behaviors and beliefs that seemingly protect worldview and encourage self-esteem striving. This mortality-salient state is usually induced by having participants write down the emotions that come to mind when thinking about death, and expanded by having participants write about what they think will happen as they die and after they die. Following this procedure a brief delay is provided. Past research indicates mortality salience effects are more pronounced following a brief delay. Nevertheless, these researchers have not yet demonstrated that this happens for the reason they propose, namely to alleviate unconscious fears of death. Direct tests of this hypothesis are likely to soon emerge in the scholarly literature.

There is some detail in this information in the way-too-long lead that should be added to the article. I'm willing to work on it. I'd appreciate some assistance, with the reading of sources and summarizing them. Moni3 (talk) 22:47, 2 March 2011 (UTC)


Hi all,

I just updated the TMT wiki with some vital information on research paradigms/methodology, a description of the role of self-esteem in TMT (the most fundamental part of TMT.. I have no idea why it was previously neglected in favor of emotion and TMT, which is in no way a central tenet of the theory), as well as some more even-handed criticisms with TMT rebuttals. I've spoken this over with my supervisor, Dr. Jeff Schimel, and he agreed that the TMT wiki was previously heinously misleading as to what the theory actually says, and so I've attempted to make its message a bit clearer. I will do further updates in the near future.

- Jordan — Preceding unsigned comment added by Jordanleeclemens (talkcontribs) 16:57, 26 March 2011 (UTC)

Hi, Jordan. I don't know why emotion is a major focus of this article, either. I would like to work on this article, but I'm quite new to the subject. That hasn't stopped me before, but I'm having a more difficult time getting started working on this. Would you be interested in working with me to rewrite the article to reflect the weight reliable sources put on the major points? I have quite a bit of experience rewriting Wikipedia articles and I often teach myself the topics as I go. Not sure why this topic is difficult for me to gain any momentum on, though. --Moni3 (talk) 17:20, 26 March 2011 (UTC)

- Hi Moni3.. absolutely. I'm bogged down with projects and school work at the moment, but in a few weeks, we could collaborate on something for sure. I agree it can be hard to pin down fundamental aspects of TMT and articulate them well, and I think this is both a product of its vast literature, but more so, on the nature of the theoretical assumptions of the theory. As I quickly learned when I started conducting research in this field, one needs to understand the theory thoroughly, in order to understand its research. We'll be in touch.

- Jordan — Preceding unsigned comment added by Jordanleeclemens (talkcontribs) 17:24, 26 March 2011 (UTC)

At some point, preferably sooner than later, the article is going to have to change the first sentence to make some sense. I've changed it twice and you've changed it back twice. It's quite meaningless to have it read "Terror Management Theory is a theory". For the first sentence it fails to inform readers what it means. --Moni3 (talk) 20:54, 29 March 2011 (UTC)
Hi Moni3. I see nothing wrong with it the way it currently is. Terror Management THEORY is just that; a theory .. and it's within the much broader, and often TMT-disparaging realm, of social psychology. It might not be the best introductory sentence, but it seems clearer than referring to TMT as a premise, which it clearly is not. It IS a comprehensive motivational theory, with very clear existential and psychodynamic PREMISES. The theory itself is not a premise.

- Jordan

I had a go at trying to capture both your insights in the latest edit of the first sentence.-Tesseract2(talk) 02:40, 1 April 2011 (UTC)

Need for clarification

Could someone knowledgeable in the subject correct erroneous references to "morality salience" scattered throughout the article? It could be inferred that mortality, not morality, is the subject matter. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:11, 5 June 2012 (UTC)

Actual Threat of Death

I didn't see anywhere in the current text where those supporting this investigate how this would apply in actual situations where there was a real death threat or even certainty of death as in suicides, combat, and terminal illness. Is there nothing on this? (talk) 02:17, 4 February 2012 (UTC)

^^^^^ GOOD POINT — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:33, 17 October 2012 (UTC)

A central argument of Greenberg, Pyszczynski, and Solomon’s (1986) Terror Management Theory suggests that humans are distinctive from all other animals in that they can fathom their own eventual mortality. In fact, humans possess the distinct ability to know that they will one day die. In addition, they can anticipate the future and imagine dying of “old age” when their bodies will eventually fail. This anticipation and realization of death is believed to be unique in the animal kingdom; it differs markedly from instinctual “fear” found in other animals. Pyszczynski, et al. (2006) explains that awareness of the inevitability of death is a rather complex type of knowledge about life and reality (Pyszczynski, et al., 2006). The authors suggest that one aspect of this awareness is that people “fight back” against mortality by attempting to remain alive as long as possible. It is thought that this need to prevent death and prolong life leads to a type of paralyzing “terror” or existential 'terror' -- hence the name Terror Management Theory (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, & Maxfield, 2006). Terror management theorists posit that consciously thinking about death causes cognitive distress within humans because it produces such an unbearable terror. This is not a ‘fight or flight’ response as in a threat of immediate danger, but that individuals are terrorized (i.e. distressed) by the thought of eventually dying. Terror Management Theory has two overarching hypotheses. The first hypothesis is the mortality salience hypothesis; the second hypothesis is referred to as the anxiety-buffer.

So, not such a good point, TMT is not about actual threat, but one of mortality salience, death awareness. What you suggest above 'crosses' from death awareness to threat of death.EKinnamon (talk) 06:59, 9 May 2013 (UTC)

New References

My name is Cara D'Amico and I am a Junior Psychology major at Dickinson College in PA. As part of one of my classes I will be editing this page. These are some of the references I am thinking about using:Damicocar (talk) 21:02, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

Arndt, J., Cox, C. R., Goldenberg, J. L., Vess, M., Routledge, C., Cooper, D. P., & Cohen, F. (2009). Blowing in the (social) wind: Implications of extrinsic esteem contingencies for terror management and health. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 96(6), 1191-1205. doi:10.1037/a0015182 This article speaks to the roles of self-esteem, morality, and death in health judgements and decisions. It also discusses the terror management health model. This article could be used to expand the "TMT and Self-Esteem" section, as well as in the new TMHM section that I made. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Damicocar (talkcontribs) 03:16, 6 March 2012 (UTC)

Bozo, Ö., Tunca, A., & Şİmşek, Y. (2009). The effect of death anxiety and age on health- promoting behaviors: A terror-management theory perspective. Journal Of Psychology: Interdisciplinary And Applied, 143(4), 377-389. doi:10.3200/JRLP.143.4.377-389 This article examined death anxiety effects and age in relation to health-promoting behaviors. Bozo et al. found that age did not have an affect; however, the researchers did find that for young adults in the death anxiety condition it yielded more health-promoting behaviors (Bozo et al., 383). I believe this article could be used in the "Specificity to Death" section.Damicocar (talk) 00:10, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

Cooper, D. P., Goldenberg, J. L., & Arndt, J. (2011). Empowering the self: Using the terror management health model to promote breast self-examination. Self And Identity, 10(3), 315-325. doi:10.1080/15298868.2010.52749 This article would fit into the new section "Terror management health model." Cooper et al. looked at peoples intentions to protect themselves when they do not consciously think about death, as well as how feelings of empowerment influences such intentions. The researchers hypotheses were validated. They found that when women were reminded of death, BSE served as a form of empowerment (Cooper et al., 322).Damicocar (talk) 00:51, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

Cox, C. R., Cooper, D. P., Vess, M., Arndt, J., Goldenberg, J. L., & Routledge, C. (2009). Bronze is beautiful but pale can be pretty: The effects of appearance standards and mortality salience on sun-tanning outcomes. Health Psychology, 28(6), 746-752. doi:10.1037/a0016388 This article could be used to expand on the "Morality Salience" section of the page, as well as in the "Terror Management Health Model" section. The researchers discuss morality salience in terms of suntanning. Cox et al. found that when tan skinned was associated with attractiveness, morality salience positively affected peoples' intentions to suntan; however, when pale skin was associated with attractiveness peoples' intentions to tan decreased" (Cox et al., 751).Damicocar (talk) 02:20, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

Hansen, J., Winzeler, S., & Topolinski, S. (2010). When the death makes you smoke: A terror management perspective on the effectiveness of cigarette on-pack warnings. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology,46(1), 226-228. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2009.09.007 This article falls under the "Morality Salience" heading. Hansen et al. examined peoples' levels of self-esteem and their attitudes towards smoking. They found that smoking resulting in death promotion did not affect people with higher levels of self-esteem who had positive attitudes towards smoking (Hansen et al., 228).Damicocar (talk) 02:29, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

Jessop, D. C., Albery, I. P., Rutter, J., & Garrod, H. (2008). Understanding the impact of mortality-related health-risk information: A terror management theory perspective. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin,34(7), 951-964. doi:10.1177/0146167208316790 This article could be used to further expand on the "TMT and Self-Esteem" section. Jessop et al. examine the roles of self-esteem when morality salience is involved on peoples' ability to manage their health (Jessop et al., 962).Damicocar (talk) 17:34, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

Jonas, E., Martens, A., Niesta Kayser, D., Fritsche, I., Sullivan, D., & Greenberg, J. (2008). Focus theory of normative conduct and terror-management theory: The interactive impact of mortality salience and norm salience on social judgment. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 95(6), 1239-1251. doi:10.1037/a0013593 This article looks at how people react to situations and judgements such as, punishment, giving aid, and peace when primed with morality salience. Jonas et al. found that all four of their hypotheses were validated. This article would fit perfectly under the "Morality Salience" section and add interesting information and studies to it.Damicocar (talk) 17:12, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

Martin, I. M., & Kamins, M. A. (2010). An application of terror management theory in the design of social and health-related anti-smoking appeals. Journal Of Consumer Behaviour, 9(3), 172-190. doi:10.1002/cb.293 This article examines self-esteem and morality salience in terms of smoking attitudes. Interestingly, Martin and Kamins (2010) found that when people had high self-esteem associated with smoking they were more likely to quit smoking from the social pressure messages, rather than the health risk messages (Martin & Kamins, 180). This article could be used to further expand the "Morality Salience" section of the page.Damicocar (talk) 02:37, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

Planalp, S., & Trost, M. R. (2008). Communication issues at the end of life: Reports from hospice volunteers. Health Communication, 23(3), 222-233. doi:10.1080/10410230802055331 This article could be used in the general or "Background" section of the page. Planalp and Trost (2008) find support for the terror management theory by examining peoples' reactions to death and fear of death.Damicocar (talk) 17:37, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

Taubman-Ben-Ari, O., & Noy, A. (2010). Self-consciousness and death cognitions from a terror management perspective. Death Studies, 34(10), 871-892. doi:10.1080/07481187.2010.496685 This article discusses the relationship between peoples' levels of self-consciousness and death cognitions. The Taubman and Noy (2010) article could be used in the "Death Thought Accessibility" section.Damicocar (talk) 16:53, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

Damicocar (talk) 19:01, 27 February 2012 (UTC)

Summary Reflecting Planned Structure: I am going to be editing and expanding 4 of the sections on this article: "Morality Salience," "Death Thought Accessibility," "TMT and Self-Esteem," and "Terror Management Health Model." For the "Morality Salience" section I will be using the Arndt et al. (2009) and the Jessop et al. (2008) articles. For the "Death Though Accessibility" section I will be using the Taubman-Ben-Ari & Noy (2010) article, as well as the Bozo et al. (2009) one. For the "TMT and Self-Esteem" one I will be using Jonas et al. (2008), Cox et al. (2009), Martin & Kamins (2010), and Hansen & Topolinski (2010). Finally, for the "Terror Management Health Model" I will be using Copper et al. (2011) and the Cox et al. (2009) articles. Damicocar (talk) 22:37, 20 March 2012 (UTC)

I am also going to be adding a new section on morality and self-esteem and how they impact health risks. Damicocar (talk) 20:05, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

I am starting work on the "TMT and Self-Esteem" section. You can check it out on my sandbox.User:Damicocar/sandbox#TMT_and_Self-Esteem —Preceding undated comment added 23:41, 20 March 2012 (UTC).

Hi there Damicocar. You seem to be spending a lot of effort making people aware of possible upcoming edits. While I am sure that everyone appreciates the consultation, I suspect it is ok for you to just go for it. Things can always be altered if others have concerns, and it would be consistent with Wikipedia principals. You can always do a little explaining in your edit summaries as well. Cheers Andrew (talk) 02:32, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

Under Criticisms

Evolutionary science is given as a reason against the creation of traits that are inefficient (such as some sort of TMT subconscious decisioning) - but the handicap principle is fairly well accepted as to why some highly inefficient genetic traits are accepted and sought after in a mate. Is there any research anyone is aware of that can make sense of this?

To be clear, there are some evolutionary criticisms of TMT (Navarette, Kurzban, Fessler, Kirkpatrick, 2004; Kirkpatrick & Navarette, 2006). In general, these argue that terror management can't be a direct product of evolution. They argue this on the basis that a being would have to develop death-anxiety before developing the coping mechanisms to deal with that anxiety (TMT processes). If this were the case, they say, it is likely that these death-anxious beings would die out before developing mechanisms to cope with the terror of death. However, these tend to ignore the possibilities that a) death-anxiety is a cognitive process that is incidental to consciousness and may be concomitant with other conscious processes, such as coping mechanisms, and b) that all adaptive mental processes which motivate behavior may not be necessarily conscious in order to compel behavior despite conflicting thoughts. For instance, even anorexics sometimes choose to eat. Personally, I think these criticisms are valid. However, the alternative explanations that these theorists offer cannot account for all TMT findings. There is a compromise, more accurate explanation out there, but nobody has developed it, to my knowledge.

As for the 'handicap principle,' I don't think it applies here. The handicap principle involves exceptional mate preferences, while TMT would argue that all humans engage in some variety of terror management, without exception. Moreover, the idea is that terror management is actually necessary in order to receive -a broader range of- the adaptive benefits of higher-level consciousness, rather than a limitation. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Idkwhatshappening (talkcontribs) 03:26, 3 April 2014 (UTC)


I note that this whole article is devoted to promoting the theory, not just explaining it, much of it in terms which will be comprehensible only to the initiate. It really needs a rewriting by someone who is not intimately connected with the subject. And the attempt to get additional related articles shown here and in the AfC submission, Wikipedia talk:Articles for creation/Existential Neuroscience is a poor idea. Better one strong article. DGG ( talk ) 04:18, 1 December 2012 (UTC)

I'm going to remove the banner. I have reviewed this article side-by-side with the lengthy discussion of terror management theory and its penumbras in Tom Pyszczynski, et al., Experimental Existential Psychology: Coping With the Facts of Life, in 1 Handbook of Social Psychology 724, 725-57 (Susan T. Fiske, et al., eds., 5th ed. 2010) (standard professional reference on what's current in the field of social psych), available online (sort of) at (sorry; the part of my mind dedicated to citations is only capable of thinking in Bluebook right now).
I find the Wikipedia article, in it current state, to be over-long, perhaps a little breathless in spots, and insufferably turgid in others. But I do not see evidence of a serious NPOV problem (unless the cultural standards for NPOV review have drifted significantly since my editing heyday, before grad school robbed me of the vast bulk of my Wiki-time -- and a gobstopping amount of money besides). So I'm going to assume that whatever were the most-glaring of the "promotional" issues identified two years ago have been chipped away in the meantime, and that this article is no longer suspect, but merely sub-optimal in terms of its structure and writing. It could use a rewrite, which I may do when I next have time for that sort of thing. Which might be after I retire.
Oh, and while I'm here, I do vote for merging the article on Mortality salience with this one. --Dynaflow babble 17:31, 30 October 2014 (UTC)


The article on mortality salience covers exactly the same ground. Even judging by that article, the only difference is explicitly stated to be

"A recent study however decided to expand on terror management theory and focus on an aspect known as postself rather than afterlife beliefs [5]. According to the study "postself" is more indicative of oneself "I" and how "I" will be remembered after death.

In other words, a single study specificially said to be a single study, and just an extension. All that would need to be merged is that one sentence I gave quoted. DGG ( talk ) 04:18, 1 December 2012 (UTC)

Support - I only just noticed this old merge proposal (thanks --Dynaflow). It seems straight forward to me. Cheers Andrew (talk) 00:25, 31 October 2014 (UTC)

Replication of findings

It might be worth noting that the recent large scale replication study of psychology experiments ( included one on attachment to parents in relation to anxiexty over mortality ( and it fails to replicate. I think this should probably be integrated into this page, although don't have time to do a careful job of it right now so will hope someone else does or that I have a chance to do it later. Dan Eisenberg (talk) 16:50, 31 August 2015 (UTC)


The step-by-step in-depth explanation of different experiments strikes me as odd for a wiki article. Most of these experimental conclusions could be summarized in 1-2 sentences. The article's style seems rather verbose currently.Oneminutefix (talk) 04:05, 8 September 2015 (UTC)

Strong disagree on merge

Is there another article on Wikipedia that deals with the specific subject of the "awareness of mortality"? The Death article doesn't much cover it; Death and culture currently just links to Mortality salience as a See also.

Oppose: I agree that TMT likely coined the term "mortality salience", but certainly not the concept or the awareness itself. Yamara 14:07, 12 October 2015 (UTC)

  1. ^ Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Arndt, J., & Schimel, J. (2004). Why Do People Need Self-Esteem? A Theoretical and Empirical Review. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 435-468.