Terror Management Theory

March 29, 2007

entershop.pngTo the best of our knowledge humans are the only animals aware of their own mortality. We also have an innate desire for self-preservation and therefore much angst can be generated when exposed to the awareness of the inevitable end of our existence. Terror management theory concerns itself with how we deal with the paralyzing fear of our own death.

Recently there have been a few articles and studies conducted linking terror management and consumerism. It seems that the accumulation of material goods helps us relieve, albeit temporarily, our existential angst. As mentioned briefly in a previous journal entry, one enormous aspect of the Internet is to draw the user closer and closer to the ‘buy’ button. What place could this new form of communication and purchasing tool have in terror management theory? Surely there are many, but I will cover one which can be dubbed bargain hunting.

Many of us know someone who loves to collect coupons for everything. Perhaps some will consider them to be penny-pinchers but I think another mechanism better explains their behavior. From an evolutionary perspectives we as humans have developed to seek out our food. Throughout the ages we have created more efficient tools to kill and grow food with. Participating in the act of obtaining or preparing sustenance likely relieves anxiety, increasing self-esteem, etc. (perhaps this one reason why a housewife finds a degree of fulfillment.) As humans have developed the ease by which we obtain goods has increased immeasurably. Today all we must do is sit in a car, drive to our local supermarket and purchase whatever we like, as long the amount of credit or money we have is sufficient. Alternatively, we can turn on the computer, click a few buttons, and wait for the goods to be delivered in a few days.

Clipping coupons not only allows us to save money but also increases the complexity of obtaining the desired goods. If we assume purchasing products helps us relieve existential angst then finding coupons turns the ‘hunt’ into something more complex, into something resembling a game. Suddenly the phrase ‘bargain hunting’ takes on a whole new dimension. Marketing and large companies have not overlooked this and brought coupons into an electronic format. Now when you purchase a product online you will often find a field where you may insert a coupon code. Because the Internet is at its very basis a tool for communication, these bargain hunters have created enormous communities where thousands of users share coupon codes and links to the latest ‘hot deal’. It doesn’t take too much analysis to see that these individuals no longer dedicate their time to this in order to save a few dollars but rather to increase the complexity and joy experienced while shopping.