Terror Management Theory
by Erick Miron
Terror Management Theory was coined by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski in 2015. The theory is a perception based on the internalized fear people regarding their mortality. This fear creates dread within humans, and causes an existential terror within oneself. According to Greenberg, Solomon, and Pyszczynski’s article, “Terror Management Theory and the COVID-19 Pandemic,” humans take this inherit fear and live their lives trying to minimize the feeling of uneasiness it causes. The article states, “This potential for terror is managed by an anxiety-buffering system consisting of cultural worldviews, self-esteem, and close interpersonal relationships,” (Pyszczynsk et al., 174). As a way to make the most of their lifetime, humans subscribe to particular worldviews as a way to seek purpose in the way they spend their time while living. According to the article, self-esteem is a direct result of the validation one feels when they believe they have been living up to the standards in their worldview. The relationships humans cultivate with others result in further validation which spark an inner confidence within themselves. As a result of these three things, humans are able to find purpose in their lives, and consequently minimize their fear of mortality.
In their article, “Communication and Terrorism: A Terror Management Theory Perspective,” Claude H. Miller and Mark J. Landau describe how the Theorist Management Theory has contributed to racism and discrimination towards certain groups. They reference the 9/11 attacks, and discuss how Terror Management Theory validates the universal fear of foreign terrorism. However, Miller and Landau also focus on how this fear sparked a global wave of Islamophobia. They make an interesting case when analyzing the casualties which took place on the day of the attacks. They state that the attacks had around the same fatalities as a moderately severe earthquake or typhoon. However, the psychological impact of 9/11 is not nearly comparable to that of a natural disaster. The authors state, “To this day, many of our most vital responses to 9/11 have been concerned with reestablishing feelings of security, meaning, and justice,” (Miller and Landau, 82). In an effort to make its people feel safer, Muslim people have been labeled as a threat to society. While islamophobia has been prominent in the U.S, there have also been countries around the world who have adopted the same discriminatory practices. In 2000, the United Kingdom extended the Terorrism Act. According to Tina G. Patel’s article, “It’s Not About Security, It’s About Racism,” this act criminalized religious practices and labeled Muslims as dangerous individuals (Patel).
While the Terror Management Theory provides an explanation for the rise of Islamophobia around the world, it does not excuse the white supremecist mentality which has been normalized in American media. The issue of domestic terrorism has been always been pertinant, yet somehow ignored. Inconsistencies like these are a testament to the white supremecist mentality which the US has historically held, and will continue to hold as long as the narratives are not corrected.
Pyszczynsk et al., “Terror Management Theory and the COVID-19 Pandemic.”Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Sage Publishing, 2020
Miller, Claude and Mark Landau, “Communication and Terrorism: A Terror Management Theory Perspective.” Communication Research Reports, Routeledge, 2005, 79-88
Mbembe, Achille. Necropolitics. Duke University Press, 2019.
Patel, Tina G. “It’s Not About Security, It’s About Racism: Counter-Terror Strategies, Civilizing Processes and the Post-Race Fiction.” Palgrave Communications, 2017, https://www.nature.com/articles/palcomms201731, March 20, 2021.
Jones, Seth G. and Catrina Doxsee. “The War Comes Home: The Evolution of Domestic Terrorism in the United States.” CSIS, October 22, 2020, https://www.csis.org/analysis/war-comes-home-evolution-domestic-terrorism-united-states, March 16, 2020.