Terror management theory posits that people are motivated to pursue positive self-evaluations because self-esteem provides a buffer against the omnipresent potential for anxiety engendered by the uniquely human awareness of mortality. Empirical evidence relevant to the theory is reviewed showing that high levels of self-esteem reduce anxiety and anxiety-related defensive behavior, reminders of one’s mortality increase self-esteem striving and defense of self-esteem against threats in a variety of domains, high levels of self-esteem eliminate the effect of reminders of mortality on both self-esteem striving and the accessibility of death-related thoughts, and convincing people of the existence of an afterlife eliminates the effect of mortality salience on self-esteem striving. TMT is compared with other explanations for why people need self-esteem, and a critique of the most prominent of these, sociometer theory, is provided.
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