Terror Management Theory

A series of terrorist attacks around the world have shaken the most powerful nations deeply. Many people think their lives are in danger because of these catastrophic events and the fear-merchant politicians who want to use them for their own benefit.

According to a highly effective and verified theory of social psychology, as it does not do, as the existential danger persists, the world will become even more divided and hostility will increase. The Terror Management Theory (TMT) explains how events that cause death-related thoughts are connected more and more to people’s own cultural worldviews. According to this theory, people are more connected to people who share their national, ethnic or political identities and are severely opposing those who do not.

As a result, the massive increase in the deadly terrorist attacks that are taking place, lay the groundwork for ultranationalist right movements that promote prejudice, intolerance and hostility towards different identities, and these movements also cause radicalizing psychological conditions.

The rise of nationalism in Europe, the emergence of the UK in the European Union and the acquisition of Donald Trump’s US presidency are the most recent examples of the Terror Management Theory. This theory was first put forward by social psychologists in the 1980s and then spread after the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer-winning philosophy and psychology study The Denial of Death (1973).

According to Becker’s ideas, much of human behavior is shaped by fear of death. People with high levels of consciousness and expression are aware of the inevitability of their own deaths. The conception of this reality and the end result of the desire to live in the nature of man leads to a cognitive incoherence which causes deep fear and anxiety. According to Becker, people have created culture to be a buffer against fear. By embracing cultures and worldviews, people add meaning and value to their lives. Thus, fear and anxiety, which are constantly under the subconscious, can be effectively managed.

The religions offer immortality with the Hereafter faith. But non-religious cultural world views, such as political ideologies and national identities, symbolically lead to immortality. Symbolic immortality is to be part of something that is more individual, like a nation, a common identity and purpose, to survive for longer. People often deal with actions that will enable them to be remembered by a society or community after death.

Of course, if a theory seems logical or intriguing, it does not go beyond speculation if it can be verified or otherwise proved. The most impressive aspect of the Terror Management Theory is its success in the laboratory. Hundreds of experimental studies on the theory have been made and theoretic support has been provided by validating the hypothesis that mortality is evident.

According to this hypothesis, if we are adopting the cultural worldviews to control the fear of death in the same way as we have mentioned, what reminds us of our mortality, as the Horror Management Theory has assumed, creates behavior that strengthens our commitment to our own worldviews. If we reduce it even further, things that remind us of mortality cause individuals to attach more importance to the communities they belong to, and against the different worldviews, national or ethnic identities, on the contrary, they approach it aggressively.

In a particularly ridiculous experiment, a bitter sauce was used to test this phenomenon. The students were divided into two groups and asked to write about their deaths or about a slightly softer topic. Later, he was put in line with someone who considered his political views or not, and asked how much painful sauces these people would need to be tongued. In the direction of the Horror Management Theory and the prospect of mortality hypothesis, the participants who wrote about the death put a lot of painful sauce on the languages of those who did not share their own worldviews and those who were in control did not.

A study of aggression on Iranian and American high school students shows irritating results about this hypothesis. Students are asked to write down as much as possible a group of “when they are physically dead” and to express their feelings about it. Participants in the control case were also asked similar questions about toothache. The results show that Iranian students who want to think about death are more supportive towards suicide attacks against America and that the student group who is in control thinks the opposite. Just as there were reminders of death, American politically conservative students were more likely to support large military interventions against foreign countries that would have killed thousands of people.


In these findings, it is clear that the division in the countries under attack has increased more and has become more and more hostile towards foreign cultures. Even according to these studies, awareness of mortality can increase the prejudice against nationalism and other communities. According to what is gained, things reminiscent of death affect even elections; Direct voters to right-wing candidates. Five weeks before the 2004 presidential election in 2004, scientists conducted a survey of voters in New Jersey to see if anything that reminded them of death directly affected the vote. As they asked Iranian students in the research we talked about earlier, participants were asked about death; While those in control were asked about parallel questions about watching television. The results are really amazing. One of the three elections in which death-related thinking was sought was to vote for George W. Bush, a pro-war and conservative. The voters who wanted to think about television, they chose left-wing candidate John Kerry.

Based on these results, it can be explained how Bush became the most popular among Republicans and Democrats after the September 11 terrorist attacks, with the lowest approval rates.

What does all this mean today? According to the theory of terror management, communities will become increasingly chaotic and fragmented as destructive, devastating terrorist attacks continue. Increasing aggression against different views creates a tendency to prefer war to peace. Right nationalism will grow and develop with prejudice and intolerance. While terror attacks are frequent, Islamic conservatism will grow. The tension of nations among nations, roots and political communities will lead to more clashes, so that a cycle of feedback will emerge that increases suspicion and violence.

Whatever it is, it is very important that we do not lose our optimism in these difficult times. We can begin to take steps to defend ourselves, if we are aware of the provocative effects that are controversial about what reminds us of death and the underlying existential threat. After every terrorist attack, we must work effectively to ensure unity between different nations, ethnicity and cultural worldviews. We should try to build bridges between different communities.Together with calm and on-the-ground temperament, this kind of effort can control the fear of death; We can preserve wisdom, compassion and peace.