ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

心理科学进展 ›› 2021, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (3): 492-504.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2021.00492

• 研究前沿 • 上一篇    下一篇


孟祥寒1, 李强1,2(), 周彦榜1, 王进3   

  1. 1南开大学社会心理学系, 天津 300350
    2南开大学滨海学院, 天津 300270
    3天津职业技术师范大学, 天津 300222
  • 收稿日期:2020-02-29 出版日期:2021-03-15 发布日期:2021-01-26
  • 通讯作者: 李强
  • 基金资助:

Controversies in terror management theory research and its implications for research on the psychology of death

MENG Xianghan1, LI Qiang1,2(), ZHOU Yanbang1, WANG Jin3   

  1. 1Department of Social Psychology, Nankai University, Tianjin 300350, China
    2Binhai College, Nankai University, Tianjin 300270, China
    3Tianjin University of Technology and Education, Tianjin 300222, China
  • Received:2020-02-29 Online:2021-03-15 Published:2021-01-26
  • Contact: LI Qiang


死亡心理是人类面临死亡及相关事件时所产生的认知、情感和行为意向的复杂心理状态。目前, 研究死亡心理较为全面和科学的理论是恐惧管理理论(Terror Management Theory, 简称TMT)。但该理论存在以下争议: (1)在死亡的基本认知方面, 恐惧管理理论呈现出不一致的研究结果, 如死亡是否与不确定性无关, 死亡是否导致恐惧情绪, 寻求个体生存是否为人类的核心议题; (2)在社会文化层面, 恐惧管理理论提出者的文化背景对待死亡的普遍态度是呈否认的, 但是跨文化的研究显示其他文化背景对待死亡的态度却呈现出接纳或蔑视; (3)在恐惧管理理论的研究结果方面, 呈现出较多的矛盾性, 表明研究中有重要的调节因子未被涉及。基于此, 死亡心理可能的研究方向拟从认知、行为和社会三个层面进行梳理。未来死亡心理研究需秉承科学与文化并重的原则, 并结合死亡心理的内容与过程, 关注群体面对死亡时的心理规律, 开展死亡心理影响下的身心健康干预研究。

关键词: 死亡心理, 恐惧管理理论, 本土心理学, 文化背景, 内容-过程


Psychology of death remains a complex psychological state of cognition, emotion, and behavioral intention in the face of death and death-related events. Currently, the most comprehensive and scientific theory that investigates death psychology is the Terror Management Theory (TMT). However, TMT has the following controversies: (1) In terms of three basic cognitive aspects of death, the theory presents inconsistent research results on whether death is independent of uncertainty, whether death causes fear, and whether individual survival is a central issue for human beings; (2) On the socio-cultural level, the cultural background of the inventor of TMT generally denies death. However, cross-cultural studies demonstrate that other cultures treat death with attitudes such as acceptance and contempt; (3) Finally, there exist a lot of contradictions in the research results of TMT. This indicates that there are important regulatory factors that were not involved in the present study. 
On this basis, the possible research directions of death psychology can be summarized from the aspects of cognition, behavior, and society. Studies at the cognitive level have found that people often have a sense of uncertainty when facing death. Enhancing the sense of belonging can effectively alleviate death anxiety; meanwhile, gaining a greater sense of the significance of life can make accepting death easier. Behavioral level studies have revealed that death anxiety has the property of embodiment cognition. Perhaps researchers need to reevaluate studies on the psychology of death from an embodied cognition perspective. In addition, death-related rituals perform both practical and symbolic functions, and the study of these functions and underlying mechanisms can be carried out from two aspects: the bottom-up and the top-down. Investigations of the social level have discovered that the psychological content and process of death in different cultures can be abstracted into a series of core dimensions which can be used as a prototype to predict and intervene the reality. In the present society, people are less psychologically prepared to face death. Therefore, it is urgent to carry out scientific research on content and process of Chinese people's psychology of death. 
    In the future, the death psychology research should regard science and culture with equal attention. On one hand, the basic research on the psychology of death can use more objective measures such as heart rate, electrodermal activity, cortisol, and brain imaging techniques. On the other hand, traditional but underappreciated methods should be used to supplement laboratory research, such as qualitative research, case study, longitudinal study, etc. Secondly, the study of death psychology should be combined with the cognitive construction of death ontology, as well as procedures and coping behaviors for death. Thirdly, death is an individual event, a social event, and, sometimes, a political event. Therefore, researchers need to pay attention to the psychological patterns of the group in the face of death in order to understand questions such as how to construct the psychological defense system of death in modern society and how the death narrative evolves. Lastly, death events tend to cause fear and anxiety among the exposed individuals or groups. In severe cases, mental disorders such as PTSD may occur along with chronic physical diseases, though the clinical mechanism of this process is unclear. Therefore, it is necessary to carry out research on mental and physical health intervention under the influence of the psychology of death to assist individuals to develop a healthy lifestyle.

Key words: terror management theory, death psychology, indigenous psychology, cultural background, content-process