The Birth and Death of Belonging

Jeff Schimel and Jeff Greenberg

in The Oxford Handbook of Social Exclusion

Published in print February 2013 | ISBN: 9780195398700
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

The Birth and Death of Belonging

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  • Social Psychology
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Terror management theory (TMT) (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986 ) offers an evolutionary–existential–psychoanalytic perspective on the human motive to belong. According to this view, the evolution of sophisticated intellect allowed for consideration of the past and future in decision making, thereby freeing human beings from fixed response patterns. However, it also made humans uniquely aware of the inevitability of their own death. To manage potentially debilitating anxiety resulting from this awareness, humans have had to give up some of this freedom so as to feel securely embedded in a cultural meaning system (a cultural worldview) that provides meaning, self-worth, and a sense of immortality. Because other people are an important source of self-esteem and validation for cultural worldview beliefs, social connections with similar others are maintained to mitigate existential fear. A large empirical literature supporting this theoretical account is reviewed. Ensuing discussion considers how a TMT perspective can lend understanding to the multifarious reactions people have to social exclusion.

Keywords: belonging; cultural worldview; death; evolution; existential; freedom; self-esteem; social exclusion; terror management

Article.  11101 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology ; Clinical Psychology

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