Pride and prejudice: Fear of death and social behavior

Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Terror management theory posits that awareness of mortality engenders a potential for paralyzing terror, which is assuaged by cultural worldviews: humanly created, shared beliefs that provide individuals with the sense they are valuable members of an enduring, meaningful universe (self-esteem), and hence are qualified for safety and continuance beyond death. Thus, self-esteem serves the fundamental psychological function of buffering anxiety. In support of this view, studies have shown that bolstering self-esteem reduces anxiety and that reminders of mortality intensify striving for self-esteem; this research suggests that self-esteem is critical for psychological equanimity. Cultural worldviews serve the fundamental psychological function of providing the basis for death transcendence. To the extent this is true, reminders of mortality should stimulate bolstering of one's worldview. More than 80 studies have supported this idea, most commonly by demonstrating that making death momentarily salient increases liking for people who support one's worldview and hostility toward those with alternative worldviews. This work helps explain human beings' dreadful history of intergroup prejudice and violence: The mere existence of people with different beliefs threatens our primary basis of psychological security; we therefore respond by derogation, assimilation efforts, or annihilation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)200-204
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2000


  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Consciousness
  • Culture
  • Death
  • Prejudice
  • Self-esteem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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