Terror Management Theory: Implications for Understanding Prejudice, Stereotyping, Intergroup Conflict, and Political Attitudes



Terror management theory posits that to maintain psychological security despite the awareness of personal mortality, humans must maintain faith in cultural worldviews. These worldviews provide ways for humans to believe they are significant enduring beings in a world of meaning rather than mere animals fated only to obliteration upon death. We review basic support for terror management theory and research exploring the implications of terror management theory for understanding prejudice, stereotyping, intergroup conflict, and political attitudes. This research shows that when the psychological need to defend these worldviews is heightened by reminders of death (mortality salience), prejudice, stereotyping, and support for charismatic leaders and aggression against outgroups is increased. Terror management concerns also lead targets of prejudice to disidentify with their ingroup and confirm negative stereotypes of their group. We conclude by considering the implications of terror management theory and research for the alleviation of prejudice and intergroup conflict.