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The Role of Death in Life: Exploring the Interface Between Terror Management Theory and Evolutionary Psychology

  • Tom PyszczynskiEmail author
Chapter
Part of the Evolutionary Psychology book series (EVOLPSYCH)

Abstract

The problem of death has been pondered by poets, philosophers, and ordinary people since the beginning of written history, and perhaps since the earliest days of our species. The oldest surviving narrative text, the Epic of Gilgamesh, tells the story of a young king who is deeply troubled by the death of his friend (Enkidu), which leads him to realize that he, too, will die someday, inspiring him to embark on an epic quest for immortality. The earliest fossil remnants of our species coincide with the earliest unambiguous signs of ritual burial of the dead. All cultures teach practices to forestall death and prescribe rituals to be performed after the death of others. Despite this, if one were to survey the literature in empirically oriented psychology in the early 1980s, it would appear that the problem of death played little if any role in human affairs, or perhaps didn’t even exist. Terror management theory (TMT; Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986; Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991) is an attempt to bring the problem of death into the mainstream of contemporary psychology. Toward this end, TMT posits that anxiety about the inevitability of death is a driving force behind the human motives for self-esteem and meaning in life, and thus plays an important role in diverse aspects of human behavior.

Keywords

Terror management theory Death anxiety Evolutionary psychology Social psychology Death denial 

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ColoradoColorado SpringsUSA

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