Thirty Years of Terror Management Theory: From Genesis to Revelation

Tom Pyszczynski, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

335 Scopus citations


Terror management theory posits that human awareness of the inevitability of death exerts a profound influence on diverse aspects of human thought, emotion, motivation, and behavior. People manage the potential for anxiety that results from this awareness by maintaining: (1) faith in the absolute validity of their cultural worldviews and (2) self-esteem by living up to the standards of value that are part of their worldviews. In this chapter, we take stock of the past 30 years of research and conceptual development inspired by this theory. After a brief review of evidence supporting the theory's fundamental propositions, we discuss extensions of the theory to shed light on: (1) the psychological mechanisms through which thoughts of death affect subsequent thought and behavior; (2) how the anxiety-buffering systems develop over childhood and beyond; (3) how awareness of death influenced the evolution of mind, culture, morality, and religion; (4) how death concerns lead people to distance from their physical bodies and seek solace in concepts of mind and spirit; and (5) the role of death concerns in maladaptive and pathological behavior. We also consider various criticisms of the theory and alternative conceptualizations that have been proposed. We conclude with a discussion of what we view as the most pressing issues for further research and theory development that have been inspired by the theory's first 30 years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAdvances in Experimental Social Psychology, 2015
EditorsJames M. Olson, Mark P. Zanna
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages70
ISBN (Print)9780128022474
StatePublished - 2015

Publication series

NameAdvances in Experimental Social Psychology
ISSN (Print)0065-2601


  • Attachment evolution
  • Culture
  • Death
  • Existential psychology
  • Meaning
  • Morality
  • Mortality salience
  • Self-esteem
  • Terror management theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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