Mitigating death anxiety: Identifying music’s role in terror management

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Based on the ideas of social-anthropologist Ernest Becker, Terror Management Theory (TMT) explains human behavior as being motivated by conscious and unconscious mortality salience. This article examines the role of music in the denial of death and catalogues related literature in the music and social psychology fields. Categories include: TMT and art, music used as control condition in TMT research, and songs and TMT. A brief description of Becker’s theory and TMT and a discussion of the functions of music in culture precede the literature review. Analysis of the literature suggests that (a) music provides a safe window frame through which to examine death, (b) music created for community purposes may buffer death anxiety more readily than that created for individual purposes, and (c) songs prompt mortality salience and simultaneously buffer death anxiety depending on individual music preferences, cultural worldviews, and perceptions of famous others. The review further identifies limitations in TMT studies regarding music and terror management and highlights the need for additional empirical research to untangle the complexity of music’s role in mitigating death anxiety growing out of mortality salience.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Psychology of Music