Why do people need self-esteem? A theoretical and empirical review

Tom Pyszczynski, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, Jamie Arndt, Jeff Schimel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

826 Scopus citations


Terror management theory (TMT; J. Greenberg, T. Pyszczynski, & S. Solomon, 1986) posits that people are motivated to pursue positive self-evaluations because self-esteem provides a buffer against the omnipresent potential for anxiety engendered by the uniquely human awareness of mortality. Empirical evidence relevant to the theory is reviewed showing that high levels of self-esteem reduce anxiety and anxiety-related defensive behavior, reminders of one's mortality increase self-esteem striving and defense of self-esteem against threats in a variety of domains, high levels of self-esteem eliminate the effect of reminders of mortality on both self-esteem striving and the accessibility of death-related thoughts, and convincing people of the existence of an afterlife eliminates the effect of mortality salience on self-esteem striving. TMT is compared with other explanations for why people need self-esteem, and a critique of the most prominent of these, sociometer theory, is provided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)435-468
Number of pages34
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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