Terror Management Theory (TMT) explains how and why event that conjure up thoughts about death cause people to cling more strongly to their worldviews- siding with those who share their national, ethnic or political identity, while aggressively opposing those who do not. Sharp increases in deadly terror attacks around the world serve to create a sweeping psychological condition that sets the stage for waves of far-right nationalist movements that encourage prejudice, intolerance and hostility toward dissimilar others.
Europe’s nationalist surge, Brexit in the United Kingdom and the presidency win for Donald Trump in the United States are just the most recent demonstrations of TMT.
This concept is derived from cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work of philosophy and psychology, The Denial of Death (1973). Becker’s big idea was that much of human action is motivated by a fear of death. Unlike other animals, which lack higher cognition and the ability to reflect, humans recognize the inevitability of their own death. From his findings, it is easy to see how nations under attack can quickly grow more divided and increasingly hostile towards those from outside cultures.
But it is critical that we not lose optimism in these challenging times. And we must be conscious of the way some politicians use fear-mongering and propaganda to manipulate voters. Such efforts, combined with a calm and cool temperament, can help manage the terror of mortality in ways that preserve rationality, compassion and peace.
IRIANS – The Neuroscience Institute