Terror management theory: Explained

Terror+management+theory+is+this+theory+that+because+we+have+a+prefrontal+cortex+and+we%E2%80%99re+basically+the+only+species+that+can+ponder+the+future+and+the+past%E2%80%93we+know+that+we%E2%80%99re+going+to+die+and+can%E2%80%99t+tolerate+that+anxiety.+

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Terror management theory is this theory that because we have a prefrontal cortex and we’re basically the only species that can ponder the future and the past–we know that we’re going to die and can’t tolerate that anxiety.

Josh Peters, Staff Writer

Terror management is a theory proposing that control of death anxiety is the primary function of society and the main motivation in human behavior.

Terror management theory (TMT) is both a social and evolutionary psychology theory originally proposed by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski and codified in their book “The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life” (2015).

Societies could be described as standardized systems of death denial.

You and I know we are going to die. We don’t know what happens after we die, but because of this awareness, we try to do things that we don’t need to do. Let me explain.

Terror management theory is this theory that because we have a prefrontal cortex and we’re basically the only species that can ponder the future and the past–we know that we’re going to die and can’t tolerate that anxiety. We basically have to keep ourselves busy and do meaningless stuff to feel important. We have to win awards, titles, and get “things” in order to have a sense of immortality.

We are basically just managing the anxiety of knowing that we’re pretty much just rotting every day. We’re just dying and could die at any moment, everything we do past basic survival (and stuff to make surviving easier for ourselves) is really just done to impose a false sense of control and longevity in our lives because you and I know we are going to die.

TMT poses that while humans share with all life-forms a biological predisposition toward self-preservation in the service of reproduction, we are unique in our capacity for symbolic thought, which fosters self-awareness and the ability to reflect on the past and ponder the future. This spawns the realization that death is inevitable and can occur at any time for reasons that cannot be anticipated or controlled.

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