Post 10: Terror Management Theory

Know about a psychological conflict that affects not just a few humans, but all of us. TMT and its relation to humans, how it is the basis of culture and how death shapes the lives we live.

A psychological conflict that affects not just a few humans, but all of us. TMT and its relation to humans, how it is the basis of culture and how death shapes the lives we live.

Terror Management Theory (TMT) was proposed in 1986 by social psychologists Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski, and Sheldon Solomon. The theory was inspired by the writings of cultural anthropologist, Ernest Becker, and was initiated by two relatively simple questions: Why do people have such a great need to feel good about themselves?; and Why do people have so much trouble getting along with those different from themselves?

The basic gist of the theory is that humans are motivated to quell the potential for terror inherent in the human awareness of vulnerability and mortality by investing in cultural belief systems (or world-views) that imbue life with meaning.

In social psychology, terror management theory (TMT) proposes a basic psychological conflict that results from having a desire to live, but realising that death is inevitable. This conflict produces terror, and is believed to be unique to human beings. Moreover, the solution to the conflict is also generally unique to humans: culture. According to TMT, cultures are symbolic systems that act to provide life with meaning and value. Cultural values therefore serve to manage the terror of death by providing life with meaning.

The simplest examples of cultural values that manage the terror of death are those that purport to offer literal immortality (e.g. belief in afterlife, religion). However, TMT also argues that other cultural values – including those that are seemingly unrelated to death – offer symbolic immortality. For example, value of national identity, posterity,cultural perspectives on sex, and human superiority over animals have all been linked to death concerns in some manner. In many cases these values are thought to offer symbolic immortality by providing the sense that one is part of something greater that will ultimately outlive the individual (e.g. country, lineage, species).

Studies and experiments have shown that reminding a person of the inevitable can affect his immediate behaviour; youth tend to behave more recklessly and irrationally. This human behaviour is exploited by marketing individuals, but more on that towards the end.

Because cultural values determine that which is meaningful, they also contribute to self-esteem. TMT describes self-esteem as being the personal, subjective measure of how well an individual is living up to their cultural values. Like cultural values, self-esteem acts to protect one against the terror of death. However, it functions to provide one’s personal life with meaning, while cultural values provide meaning to life in general.

So, exploitation of TMT by marketeers,  more like smart use and less exploitation but it’s totally upto you to judge. During the period of vietnam war, playboy magazine’s liquor ads had hidden messages in it. The ice cubes inside the alcohol had hidden pictures, occasionally of nude women but mostly pictures like skulls, skeletons and faces screaming in agony. Most addictions are diversions from the terrifying realities, including the reality of our eventual demise. It seems plausible that by causing readers to experience mortality salience(Mortality salience is the awareness by an individual that his or her death is inevitable) their death anxiety would increase to the point where they start drinking.

TMT is derived from anthropologist Ernest Becker’s 1973 Pulitzer Prize-winning work of nonfiction The Denial of Death, in which Becker argues most human action is taken to ignore or avoid the inevitability of death. The terror of absolute annihilation creates such a profound – albeit subconscious – anxiety in people that they spend their lives attempting to make sense of it. On large scales, societies build symbols: laws, religious meaning systems, cultures, and belief systems to explain the significance of life, define what makes certain characteristics, skills, and talents extraordinary, reward others whom they find exemplify certain attributes, and punish or kill others who do not adhere to their cultural worldview. On an individual level, self-esteem provides a buffer against death-related anxiety.

Read on and Suave It Mate!

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“Terror Management Theory” by Ayush Agrawal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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