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date: 08 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines cognitive underpinnings of terror management theory (TMT) and research, and considers the implications of this work for understanding social cognition. The authors describe an associative network model of TMT and review evidence regarding spreading activation from death thought to worldview constructs and from stimuli associated with violence and health to death thought. The TMT dual defense model and evidence are summarized, with a focus on health-relevant behavior. Proximal defenses involve suppression of conscious death thought and rationalizations to minimize perceived vulnerability to death. Distal defenses are triggered by the heightened unconscious accessibility of death thought and bolster life’s meaning and the self’s value, thereby making death thought less likely to become conscious. The authors describe research on implications of TMT for understanding why and how people maintain well-structured conceptions of themselves, other people, and social situations, and consider the moderating role of need for structure. Finally, the authors consider remaining questions regarding how thoughts of mortality affect social cognition.

Keywords: terror management, associative network, death, meaning, self, health, structure, worldview, accessibility

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