On the compatibility of terror management theory and perspectives on human evolutionEvolutionary Psychology 5(3): 476-519
Terror management theory (TMT) posits that the uniquely human awareness of death gives rise to a potential for debilitating terror, which is averted by the construction and maintenance of cultural worldviews. Over 300 studies have supported hypotheses derived from TMT. In a recent critique of TMT, Navarrete and Fessler (2005) argued that TMT is inconsistent with contemporary evolutionary biology and that the evidence supporting TMT can be better accounted for by an alternative “coalitional psychology” (CP), which posits a domain general mechanism whereby a wide range of adaptive threats activate an even wider range of judgments and behaviors all directed toward sustaining unspecified coalitions. In this paper, we argue that: a) Navarrete and Fessler do not adequately present either TMT or the empirical evidence in support of it; b) TMT is in no way inconsistent with modern evolutionary biology; and c) CP is not theoretically plausible and cannot provide a convincing empirical account of evidence supporting TMT. The broader goal of this paper is to encourage evolutionary theorists to move beyond overly simplistic alternatives that target superficial portrayals of TMT and the evidence supporting it, and contribute to a more useful integration of TMT and its findings with evolutionary thinking about culture and human social behavior.
terror management theory, coalitional psychology, evolution, culture,