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date: 16 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The capacity for self-reflection, which plays an important role in human self-regulation, also leads people to become aware of the limitations of their existence. Awareness of the conflict between one’s desires (e.g., to live) and the limitations of existence (e.g., the inevitability of death) creates the potential for existential anxiety. This chapter reviews how this anxiety affects human motivation and behavior in a variety of life domains. Terror management theory and research suggest that transcending death and protecting oneself against existential anxiety are potent needs. This protection is provided by an anxiety-buffering system, which provides people a sense of meaning and value that function to shield them against these concerns. The chapter reviews evidence regarding the role of death and other existential concerns in four domains of existence: physical, personal, social, and spiritual. Because self-awareness is a prerequisite for existential anxiety, escaping or changing the nature of self-awareness can also be an effective way to manage the problems of life and death.

Keywords: terror management theory, experimental existential psychology, death anxiety, existential anxiety, motivation

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