The Worm at the Core: A Terror Management Perspective on the Roots of Psychological Dysfunction

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Psychological, Physical, Social, Terror management

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A growing body of research derived from terror management theory [e.g., Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (1991). A terror management theory of social behavior: The psychological functions of self-esteem and cultural worldviews. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology: vol. 24 (pp. 93–159). New York: Academic Press] suggests that the human struggle with the awareness of inevitable death can greatly impact people's physical and psychological well-being. The current article reviews converging lines of research that investigate the role of terror management processes in physical and mental health. Specifically, we present research that elucidates the role of death concerns in (1) conscious threat-focused defenses, (2) self-esteem striving, (3) depression, (4) anxiety disorders, (5) discomfort with the physicality of the body and (6) neuroticism. We conclude that terror management theory builds upon the work of other existential scholars and mental health perspectives to provide a broad conceptual and empirically based account of how deeply rooted existential fears manifest in ways that prove both psychologically and physically problematic. We also suggest how future research and social interventions can be employed to help individuals manage basic fears in ways that do not compromise their psychological and physical health.

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Applied and Preventive Psychology, v. 11, issue 3, p. 191-213