A dual-process model of defense against conscious and unconscious death-related thoughts: an extension of terror management theory

Psychol Rev. 1999 Oct;106(4):835-45. doi: 10.1037/0033-295x.106.4.835.


Distinct defensive processes are activated by conscious and nonconscious but accessible thoughts of death. Proximal defenses, which entail suppressing death-related thoughts or pushing the problem of death into the distant future by denying one's vulnerability, are rational, threat-focused, and activated when thoughts of death are in current focal attention. Distal terror management defenses, which entail maintaining self-esteem and faith in one's cultural worldview, function to control the potential for anxiety that results from knowing that death is inevitable. These defenses are experiential, are not related to the problem of death in any semantic or logical way, and are increasingly activated as the accessibility of death-related thoughts increases, up to the point at which such thoughts enter consciousness and proximal threat-focused defenses are initiated. Experimental evidence for this analysis is presented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy
  • Consciousness
  • Death*
  • Fear*
  • Humans
  • Logic
  • Self Concept
  • Thanatology*
  • Unconsciousness