16
   

Is culture really all about terror management?

 
 
FBM
 
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 03:29 am
Working with a simple definition of culture:

culture
noun cul·ture \ˈkəl-chər\
Simple Definition of culture

: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.
: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

What's your take on TMT? I've only recently become aware of it, and so far it seems to me to explain a lot quite well:

Quote:
Terror Management Theory (TMT) was proposed in 1986 by social psychologists Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski, and Sheldon Solomon. The theory was inspired by the writings of cultural anthropologist, Ernest Becker, and was initiated by two relatively simple questions: Why do people have such a great need to feel good about themselves?; and Why do people have so much trouble getting along with those different from themselves?

The basic gist of the theory is that humans are motivated to quell the potential for terror inherent in the human awareness of vulnerability and mortality by investing in cultural belief systems (or worldviews) that imbue life with meaning, and the individuals who subscribe to them with significance (or self-esteem). Since its inception, the theory has generated empirical research into not just the nature of self-esteem motivation and prejudice, but also a host of other forms of human social behavior. To date, over 300 studies conducted in over a dozen countries have explored such topics as aggression, stereotyping, needs for structure and meaning, depression and psychopathology (e.g., phobias), political preferences, creativity, sexuality and attraction, romantic and interpersonal attachment, self-awareness, unconscious cognition, martyrdom, religion, group identification, disgust, human-nature relations, physical health, risk taking, and legal judgments. Please see the list of publications for more specific information.


http://www.tmt.missouri.edu/ [emphasis added]

If I understand correctly, they say that culture is more or less a palliative against the fear of death. Again, I just ran across TMT a couple of days ago and am still in the process of analyzing my subjective experiences with regards to it. If you have an opinion about it, I'd be happy to hear it, especially if you know of a way that I'm misunderstanding what TMT is all about.
 
layman
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 03:44 am
@FBM,
Quote:
If I understand correctly, they say that culture is more or less a palliative against the fear of death.


Well, your own excerpt does say:

Quote:
The basic gist of the theory is that humans are motivated to quell the potential for terror inherent in the human awareness of vulnerability and mortality by investing in cultural belief systems (or worldviews)...


So, apparently it's about more than simply "fear of death." "Vulnerability" applies to tons of things, hence the vast array of subjects this "theory" has been applied to, as cited in your excerpt.

0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 04:15 am
@FBM,
I think that is one reason for parts of culture.....especially involving beliefs about how the world came to be, meaning etc....but I don't think it's by any means more than a partial explanation

Lots of bits of culture just have to do with how and what we hunt, gather, grow stuff etc.

I don't think that's a sufficient explanation for aggression and competition and xenophobia, either.
layman
 
  -1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 04:24 am
@dlowan,
Quote:
I think that is one reason for parts of culture...I don't think that's a sufficient explanation...


So, you're sayin, then, that you don't subscribe to theories which hypothesize some sort of reductionistic monism? Shame on you, obiwan!

Aincha heard? It's all or nuthin, homeboy.
0 Replies
 
FBM
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 05:20 am
@dlowan,
dlowan wrote:

I think that is one reason for parts of culture.....especially involving beliefs about how the world came to be, meaning etc....but I don't think it's by any means more than a partial explanation

Lots of bits of culture just have to do with how and what we hunt, gather, grow stuff etc.

I don't think that's a sufficient explanation for aggression and competition and xenophobia, either.


Yeah, maybe it's not completely sufficient in itself to explain everything that can fit into the definition of "culture." A lot of specifics can be attributed to historical accident, environmental limitations, biology and so forth. But it makes sense to me that a lot of the relatively frivolous stuff we engage in in day-t0-day life serves the function of distracting or buffering us from existential anxiety regarding what appears to be certain extinction of the self. At least, it's a lens that I'm trying on at the moment.

As for aggression, competition and xenophobia, it looks to me like TMT has the potential to reveal some significant insights, whether it's a completely sufficient explanation or not. I was reading up on some of the research that's been done on it, and so far it looks like it may play a bigger role than is widely recognized. Am still reading.

dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 05:56 am
@FBM,
Are you studying this, or just interested?

FBM
 
  3  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 05:59 am
@dlowan,
Studying it because I'm interested. Wink Not for a class, no.
0 Replies
 
manored
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 08:20 pm
I think there are multiple valid viewpoints as to the "source" of culture, belief systems, and religion. You can certainly look at it from a "terror management" perspective, I'd think.

But one might also argue that meaning itself is necessary. I'd think that without the belief of that their life has some kind of meaning in the grand scheme of things, humans would lead pretty hedonistic lives, and might not care enough about their offspring and about their group/tribe for their genetic lineage to last.

I think xenophobia is more easily explained by genetics, or more specifically the evolutionary pressure to psychologically favor people with traits similar to yours over those whose traits are less similar (because people who are similar to you share more genes with you).

FBM
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 08:27 pm
@manored,
Do people not already lead hedonistic lives? I sure do. Wink

As for caring for one's offspring, that strikes me as instinctive behavior, a product of natural selection. There is the occasional exception, though. I was reading in the news just yesterday or so about adults smoking meth while their child?/children? slowly starved. Sad

The thing about xenophobia is that it seems to be learned behavior. Very young children don't seem to have it. Or do they? OK, now that's something else I'm going to have to dig into. Off to read up on it...
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 08:32 pm
@FBM,
And there are many stories about pregnant women doing drugs.
FBM
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 08:38 pm
@cicerone imposter,
True that. I wonder if the incidence of that is enough to rise to the definition of culture? Sub-culture? Or just a few fucked up individuals?

There is a drug culture, of course. That would fit well with the hypothesis about terror management, though.
manored
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 09:01 pm
@FBM,
FBM wrote:

Do people not already lead hedonistic lives? I sure do. Wink
Yes, we do =)

But we still care enough about the future of the species to, say, worry about global warming, or study the universe even thought we know that FTL most likely won't be invented in our lifetime, if at all, and so on.

FBM wrote:

As for caring for one's offspring, that strikes me as instinctive behavior, a product of natural selection. There is the occasional exception, though. I was reading in the news just yesterday or so about adults smoking meth while their child?/children? slowly starved. Sad
We truly have that instinct, and its quite powerful, but still, caring about your legacy gives you even more reasons to care about your children, and to have children in the first place.

FBM wrote:

The thing about xenophobia is that it seems to be learned behavior. Very young children don't seem to have it. Or do they? OK, now that's something else I'm going to have to dig into. Off to read up on it...
Well...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/10770563/Babies-show-racial-bias-study-finds.html

I dunno how trustworthy that particular study is, but from an evolutionary standpoint innately distinguishing those who are similar to you from those who aren't makes perfect sense. In fact, if we didn't have this instinct, then where would cultures that discriminate come from in the first place? And why would they be so ubiquitous throughout the various human societies?
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 09:04 pm
@FBM,
I'm not sure how prevalent drug use by mothers are, but I've seen some media reports on them. The impressions stayed with me, because of the effect the drugs had on the infant born with drugs.
FBM
 
  2  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 09:25 pm
@manored,
manored wrote:

But we still care enough about the future of the species to, say, worry about global warming, or study the universe even thought we know that FTL most likely won't be invented in our lifetime, if at all, and so on.
...
We truly have that instinct, and its quite powerful, but still, caring about your legacy gives you even more reasons to care about your children, and to have children in the first place.


That's addressed by TMT, too. The desire to be immortalized, even if only metaphorically, by contributing to something that will be here after the individual is gone, whether family or species. Not saying I'm buying it, mind you, only that the literature I've read on it makes that suggestion.

Quote:
Well...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/10770563/Babies-show-racial-bias-study-finds.html

I dunno how trustworthy that particular study is, but from an evolutionary standpoint innately distinguishing those who are similar to you from those who aren't makes perfect sense. In fact, if we didn't have this instinct, then where would cultures that discriminate come from in the first place? And why would they be so ubiquitous throughout the various human societies?


Thanks for that. I got the same results when I looked for info on it. That was news to me. Very Happy So, it seems that xenophobia (and racism?) could be an innate trait or the product of both nature and nurture. Culture building on the innate trait, that is. Very interesting...
FBM
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 09:27 pm
@cicerone imposter,
cicerone imposter wrote:

I'm not sure how prevalent drug use by mothers are, but I've seen some media reports on them. The impressions stayed with me, because of the effect the drugs had on the infant born with drugs.


Yeah, images like that are hard to forget. Fetal alcohol syndrome, crack babies, etc. Sad
0 Replies
 
manored
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 10:45 pm
@FBM,
FBM wrote:

manored wrote:

But we still care enough about the future of the species to, say, worry about global warming, or study the universe even thought we know that FTL most likely won't be invented in our lifetime, if at all, and so on.
...
We truly have that instinct, and its quite powerful, but still, caring about your legacy gives you even more reasons to care about your children, and to have children in the first place.


That's addressed by TMT, too. The desire to be immortalized, even if only metaphorically, by contributing to something that will be here after the individual is gone, whether family or species. Not saying I'm buying it, mind you, only that the literature I've read on it makes that suggestion.

I imagined that it did, although it sounds awkward to extend the concept of existential terror prevention to such things. Like I said earlier, I think there are multiple valid viewpoints and this is one such viewpoint, but I think phrasing things in terms of "horror management" is kinda contrived. Putting it in terms of a search for meaning seems more natural, as well as less negative, I guess. But, preferences.
FBM
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 10:53 pm
@manored,
From the quoted text in the OP: "The basic gist of the theory is that humans are motivated to quell the potential for terror inherent in the human awareness of vulnerability and mortality by investing in cultural belief systems (or worldviews) that imbue life with meaning, and the individuals who subscribe to them with significance (or self-esteem)."

So the authors of TMT think that the search for meaning is itself a symptom of the fear of non-being. Would you disagree? I'll see if I can find some more helpful quotes or sources that explain their position in more detail...
FBM
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2015 10:59 pm
@manored,
Quote:
Terror management theory assumes that humans have developed a suite of defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the existential anxiety they experience when they are cognizant of their mortality. Existential anxiety arises because individuals experience a profound motive, derived from evolutionary forces, to preserve their life. Therefore, an awareness of mortality could evoke existential anxiety, corresponding to a sense of futility, unless humans invoke a set of mechanisms that are intended to curb this awareness. Some of these mechanisms include a tendency to believe in an after life, to feel connected to a broader, enduring entity, or to distract attention from their mortality, reflecting a form of denial (Gailliot, Schmeichel, & Baumeister,2006).

Worldviews

Defense of worldviews

According to terror management theory, when individuals feel threatened, they often attempt to foster a state called symbolic immortality, attempting to connect themselves as a broader social entity--either some collective, pursuit, or meaning...

Indeed, the search for meaning might, arguably, underpin the core of the defense mechanisms, evoked to curb existential angst (see Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 1999). That is, when individuals become aware of their personal mortality, they want to believe they can contribute to some movement or purpose that transcends their body. They like to believe their life is invaluable to some endeavor that does not involve their mortal body. They need to feel their life is meaningful in some enduring sense.


http://www.psych-it.com.au/Psychlopedia/article.asp?id=74

In the bolded part, I notice how they're careful to use the word "might."
0 Replies
 
manored
 
  1  
Reply Sat 26 Dec, 2015 08:55 am
@FBM,
FBM wrote:

So the authors of TMT think that the search for meaning is itself a symptom of the fear of non-being. Would you disagree? I'll see if I can find some more helpful quotes or sources that explain their position in more detail...
Well, there are more reasons why you would want humans to seek meaning other than as a form of curbing their existential terror. I mean, what is limiting personal terror good for? For the individual. But a quest for meaning is good for the "tribe" as well. So i'd be difficult to say curbing existential terror is the only reason for the quest for meaning. And I'd hazard a guess that's why the authors say "might" and "arguably". The're aware its kind of a stretch.
FBM
 
  1  
Reply Sat 26 Dec, 2015 09:09 am
@manored,
Yes, I think they probably want to make it clear that they're speculating. As for the search for meaning, though, I think there's an individual version of this and a social or cultural version. Someone comes up with a story and/or ritual that feels comforting, shares it with others, who share it with others, etc. Each would be motivated by his/her personal sense of comfort derived from the story, but if it's a good one, then society at large would benefit from the comfort. I think it's plausible, but unproven.

That said, there have been experiments done that support at least some of the predictions made by TMT:
Quote:

Evidence for terror management theory: I. The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who violate or uphold cultural values.
Rosenblatt A1, Greenberg J, Solomon S, Pyszczynski T, Lyon D.

Abstract
On the basis of terror management theory, it was hypothesized that when mortality is made salient, Ss would respond especially positively toward those who uphold cultural values and especially negatively toward those who violate cultural values. In Experiment 1, judges recommended especially harsh bonds for a prostitute when mortality was made salient. Experiment 2 replicated this finding with student Ss and demonstrated that it occurs only among Ss with relatively negative attitudes toward prostitution. Experiment 3 demonstrated that mortality salience also leads to larger reward recommendations for a hero who upheld cultural values. Experiments 4 and 5 showed that the mortality salience effect does not result from heightened self-awareness or physiological arousal. Experiment 6 replicated the punishment effect with a different mortality salience manipulation. Implications for the role of fear of death in social behavior are discussed.


http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2795438

It should be clear from this that terror management affects both the individual and larger society.
 

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