Toward a comprehensive understanding of existential threat: Insights from paul tillich

Daniel Sullivan, Mark J. Landau, Aaron C. Kay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Experimental existential psychology (XXP) empirically investigates how people's motives for meaning and personal value influence their lives, and how symbolic self-awareness undergirds these motives and experienced threats to their fulfillment. The authors attempt to synthesize the insights that have already accumulated from XXP, and simultaneously point to a new direction for this field. Researchers have debated whether there is a "core threat" in human experience, but the authors propose that a more fruitful direction for research is to examine the simultaneous independence and interdependence of different existential threats. Paul Tillich's (1952) theory of existential threat is put forward as one model for understanding how a core threat to non-being (mortality) can nevertheless be experienced in proximally different forms, in terms of anxieties about meaninglessness or condemnation of the self. In addition to presenting Tillich's theory, the authors make several concrete suggestions for how future research in XXP should proceed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)734-757
Number of pages24
JournalSocial Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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