Terror Management Theory criticism

A list of academic criticism of Terror Management Theory (TMT), and also efforts to replicate original studies

(ordered chronologically by date first published)

1997. David M. Buss – ‘Human Social Motivation in Evolutionary Perspective: Grounding Terror Management Theory’, Psychological Enquiry, January 1997. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/246399872_Human_Social_Motivation_in_Evolutionary_Perspective_Grounding_Terror_Management_Theory.

2002. Mark R. Leary and Lisa S. Schreindorfer – ‘Unresolved Issues With Terror Management Theory’, EBSCO Publishing, 2002. http://plaza.ufl.edu/phallman/terror%20management%20theory/7390252.pdf.

2005. Carlos David Navarrete and Daniel M.T. Fessler – ‘Normative Bias and Adaptive Challenges: A Relational Approach to Coalitional Psychology and a Critique of Terror Management Theory’, Evolutionary Psychology, 2005. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/147470490500300121.

2006. Lee A. Kirkpatrick & Carlos David Navarrette – ‘Reports of My Death Anxiety Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: A Critique of Terror Management Theory from an Evolutionary Perspective’, Psychological Enquiry, 2006. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10478400701366969.

2008. Wissink et al. – ‘Replication of “Terror management and adults’ attachment to their parents: The safe haven remains” by CR Cox, J Arndt, T Pyszczynski, J Greenberg, A Abdollahi, S Solomon’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2008. https://osf.io/5tbxf/.

2011. Zachary P. Hohman, Michael A. Hogg – ‘Fear and uncertainty in the face of death: The role of life after death in group identification’, European Journal of Social Psychology, June 2011. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ejsp.818.

2014. Lambert et al. – ‘Toward a greater understanding of the emotional dynamics of the mortality salience manipulation: revisiting the “affect-free” claim of terror management research’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, May 2014. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24749817/.

2019. Bjørn Sætrevik & Hallgeir Sjåstad – ‘Mortality salience effects fail to replicate in traditional and novel measures’, May 2019. https://psyarxiv.com/dkg53.

2019. Javier Rodríguez-Ferreiro et al. – ‘Are we truly special and unique? A replication of Goldenberg et al. (2001)’, Royal Society Open Science, November 2019. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsos.191114.

2019. Klein et al. – ‘Many Labs 4: Failure to Replicate Mortality Salience Effect With and Without Original Author Involvement’, December 2019. https://psyarxiv.com/vef2c.


And just for completeness really, here are a couple of the early foundational TMT studies:

1986. Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski, and Sheldon Solomon – ‘The causes and consequences of a need for self-esteem: a terror management theory’, Springer Series in Social Psychology, January 1986. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313613028_The_causes_and_consequences_of_a_need_for_self-esteem_a_terror_management_theory.

1994. Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski, Sheldon Solomon, Linda Simon, and Michael Breus – ‘Role of Consciousness and Accessibility of Death-Related Thoughts in Mortality Salience Effects’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, November 1994. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/15232849_Role_of_Consciousness_and_Accessibility_of_Death-Related_Thoughts_in_Mortality_Salience_Effects.

If I’ve missed any obvious academic criticism up to 2022, or any obvious foundational TMT studies, please let me know, and I will make sure to add them.

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