Terror management theory (TMT) proposes that the ubiquitous need for meaning and self-esteem — arises, "in part in an effort to secure oneself psychologically from concerns stemming from the awareness of mortality.
The theory proposes that a potential for anxiety results from the juxtaposition of death awareness — presumably a uniquely human capacity made possible by cognitive abilities such as self-awareness and abstract thought — and the instinct for self-preservation, which is common to all animals. To defend against this potential death anxiety, people must believe that some valued aspect of themselves will continue, either literally or symbolically, after cessation of their biological body. Literal immortality takes the form of an afterlife (eg heaven), whereas symbolic immortality takes the form of extensions of the self (eg children, achievements) continuing to exist after the person’s biological death.
Whether literal or symbolic, this cultural anxiety buffer consists of two components: (a) belief in the validity of a cultural worldview and the standards and values associated with that worldview and (b) belief that one is meeting or exceeding those standards and values, that is, self-esteem.
Thus, a cultural worldview 'is more than merely an outlook on life: it is an immortality formula.'
Part of the value of TMT is its examination of a process that is outside of conscious awareness and thereby not particularly obvious to people employing the proposed defenses. According to the theory, the problem of death resides beneath consciousness and, from there, triggers distal death defenses — the maintenance of worldviews and self-esteem. The conscious contemplation of death is defended against differently according to TMT; it is dealt with more rationally by denying vulnerability to physical death or pushing it into the distant future using proximal death defenses such as a conscious thought about one’s excellent state of physical health or one’s family trend toward longevity.
By providing an explanation for why people invest so heavily in their belief systems and why people need to feel valued, TMT offers insight into a broad array of human behaviors. Of particular import has been using TMT to examine the omnipresent nature of intergroup conflict. Given a fundamental human motive to secure oneself from death, TMT postulates that problems will typically arise when differences between people are perceived as challenges to one’s beliefs and sense of value — the distal death defenses.
Recently, two different reviews of TMT have highlighted its relevance for peace processes and its implications for understanding prejudice, intergroup conflict, and political attitudes. TMT can help explain why peace work is hampered particularly in the context of war and life-threatening violence as it suggests that our most vile attitudes and actions toward other groups stem from a fear of death that we cannot fully cope with or comprehend."
Burke BL, Martens A, Faucher EH. "Two Decades of Terror Management Theory: A Meta-Analysis of Mortality Salience Research." Personality and Social Psychology Review 2010; 14(2): 155–195.
A more evolved level of consciousness is imminent:
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