A Body of Terror: Denial of Death and the Creaturely Body

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Book Chapter

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The author presents a terror management analysis of people’s attitudes toward their animal nature, as reflected in their bodies and physical sensations. Goldenberg’s central thesis is that human beings are caught in a perpetual struggle between (a) the need to deny their mortality and (b) reminders that they are flesh-and-blood creatures with animalistic needs and desires, a fact that indicates they are mortal, like any other animal. Goldenberg argues that when mortality concerns are salient, people distance themselves from the physicality of their bodies by concealing their more creaturely aspects or by imbuing the physical body with symbolic significance. She reviews research testing these hypotheses and shedding light on the effects of death awareness on attitudes toward the body, discomfort with bodily functions (e.g., eating, sex), the condemnation and objectification of women’s bodies, compliance with recommendations for maintaining good health, and belief in a life hereafter. This chapter exemplifies the creative value of organizing research around a powerful theory of existential concerns.

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A Body of Terror: Denial of Death and the Creaturely Body, in P. R. Shaver & M. Mikulincer (Eds.), Meaning, Mortality, and Choice: The Social Psychology of Existential Concerns, American Psychological Association, p. 93-110