Original article:

Normative bias and adaptive challenges: A relational approach to coalitional psychology and a critique of terror management theory

Evolutionary Psychology 3: 297-325 Carlos David Navarrete, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, 1285 Franz Hall, Los Angeles, CA, 90095-1563, USA, cdn@ucla.eduDaniel M.T. Fessler, Center for Behavior, Evolution, and Culture and Department of Anthropology, 341 Haines Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1553, USA, dfessler@anthro.ucla.edu


Adherence to ingroup ideology increases after exposure to death-related stimuli, a reaction that proponents of terror management theory (TMT) explain as a psychological defense against the uniquely human existential fear of death. We argue that existential concerns are not the relevant issue; rather, such concepts can be subsumed under a larger category of adaptive challenges that prime coalitional thinking. We suggest that increases in adherence to ingroup ideology in response to adaptive challenges are manifestations of normative mental representations emanating from psychological systems designed to enhance coordination and membership in social groups. In providing an alternative to TMT, we (1) explain why the theory is inconsistent with contemporary evolutionary biology, (2) demonstrate that mortality-salience does not have the unique evocative powers ascribed to it by TMT advocates, and (3) discuss our approach to coalitional psychology, a framework consistent with modern evolutionary theory and informed by a broad understanding of cultural variation, can be employed to help account for both the corpus of results in TMT research and the growing body of findings inconsistent with TMT’s predictions.


terror management, coalition formation, intergroup bias, worldview defense, normative beliefs

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Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)

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