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Terror Management and Personality: Variations in the Psychological Defense Against the Awareness of Mortality



Drawing on terror management theory (TMT), we discuss the psychological motivations that shape personality at two levels: the characteristically human personality common to us all and the individual differences that distinguish some people from others. TMT posits that the motivation to protect the self against deep-rooted fears about mortality drives people to maintain meaningful, reliable conceptions of reality and positive evaluations of themselves, two broad tendencies that form the foundation of every person’s personality. We review studies showing that mortality reminders increase efforts to bolster cultural sources of meaning and self-esteem in similar ways across individuals and cultures. TMT also posits that individual differences in personality partly reflect the different sources of meaning and self-esteem that people invest in to assuage mortality fears. We review evidence that individual differences predict the degree and direction of people’s defensive responses to mortality reminders. Directions for future research are discussed.