Applying terror management theory to art, film, and media: A theoretical and empirical review

Isaac F. Young, Daniel Sullivan, Roman Palitsky

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


One of the ubiquitous characteristics of human art, throughout history and across cultures, is the attempt to come to terms with mortality and to achieve symbolic forms of immortality. A unique interdisciplinary contribution of terror management theory (TMT) has been its recent role in shedding light on this recurrent aspect of aesthetic creativity and experience. This chapter reviews the growing literature relevant to this particular contribution. It focuses on two main bodies of work: (1) theoretical literature employing TMT to enrich scholarly analyses of art, particularly in the area of film studies; and (2) empirical literature that draws on the TMT framework to examine psychological motivations for the creation and consequences of consumption of art. We further consider research on the role of death anxiety in processing commercial media, and the potential for artistic activity to temporarily liberate individuals from anxious defensiveness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Terror Management Theory
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9780128118443
ISBN (Print)9780128118450
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Art
  • Cinema
  • Creativity
  • Death
  • Film
  • Genre
  • Media
  • Mortality
  • Terror management theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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