Fear of Death & Political Affiliation

By Nelson Abreu


Jeff Greenberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, Sheldon Solomon (Skidmore College) and Tom Pyszczynski (University of Colorado, Colorado Springs) are the originators of Terror Management Theory, which helps explain why humans react the way they do to the threat of death, and how this reaction influences their post-threat cognition and emotion.  Their current research, to be featured in the December 2004 issue of the journal Psychological Science, suggests that the threat of death increases the appeal of charismatic leaders due to the need for psychological security. 


The scientists asked subjects to think about their own death or a control topic and then read campaign statements of three hypothetical political candidates: charismatic, task-oriented, or relationship-oriented. Following a reminder of death, there was an almost 800 percent increase for the charismatic style but not the others.

A similar report by Solomon and Landau published in September’s Personality and Social Science Bulletin indicates that reminders of death or the events of 9/11 dramatically increased support for President Bush and his policies regarding terrorists and Iraq. Said Solomon, "The original impetus for this research was to study how people's political preferences change as a function of their psychological state. I am reminded of Freud's notion that we need to make conscious the unconscious. Our research shows that unconscious thoughts of death can have a great effect on people's political choices."

According to these studies, repeated death-related messages can be an effective election strategy for President Bush and other leaders who emphasize the greatness of their own nation and the need to eradicate the threatening evil around it – a heroic, patriotic victory over enemies of a nation’s values and its way of life.  They emphasize the importance of monitoring efforts by candidates to capitalize on fear-mongering and to use their rationality to harmonize their emotional reactions.  But is there something that we can do about the fear of death itself, which is the source of this vulnerability to political manipulation and coercion?

The fear of death seems to stem from mainly two things: the presence and certainty of death and the uncertainty of what follows, since no one returns to tell the story… Except for those who have had near-death or out-of-body experiences according to Central Florida Community College professor Scott Olsen, PhD.  Besides having such extraordinary experiences, he has interviewed researchers like Dr. Kenneth Ring who investigated near-death experiences (NDE’s) of blind persons who were able to make real visual observations while clinically dead.

According to researcher P.M.H. Atwater, most people who have NDE’s lose their fear of death and undergo a series of other positive behavioral transformations afterwards.  But no one in their right mind would prescribe intentionally predisposing yourself to car accidents, electric shocks, drowning and other such NDE-triggering accidents. Patricia Sousa of International Academy of Consciousness-Miami notes that people have the ability to have out-of-body experiences (OBE) by will when consistently applying harmless psychological or bioenergetic (related to control of chi) techniques.  According to Sousa, the OBE and the NDE allow one to temporarily preview the non-physical (spiritual) dimension where we come from, that we visit at night – mostly unconsciously – and to where we will eventually return. Both experiences empower the individual when they replace belief of life after death and purpose or meaning of life – with knowledge.

Recommended Reading:

v      Mindsight: Near Death & Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind  and Lessons from the Light: Dr. Kenneth Ring et al

v      The New Children and Near Death Experiences and Coming Back to Life: The After-Effects of the Near-Death Experience by P. M. H. Atwater

v      The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things by Barry Glassner

v      In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror by Thomas A. Pyszczynski et al

v     Projections of the Consciousness – a dairy of out-of-body experiences by Waldo Vieria, MD


Related Resources (Near Death Experience):

Patricia Sousa’s Near Death Experience course

FAQ’s on NDE from International Academy of Consciousness and IANDS

Read about the NDE account of Plutarch of Queroneia in this article

Online articles on NDE by researcher PMH Atwater

Chapter 48 of the landmark scientific treatise Projectiology by Waldo Vieira, MD

Proceedings of the III International Congress of Projectiology and Conscientiology