Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Death Denial

The Chronicle of Higher Education
May 22nd, 2015

In October 1984, a young Skidmore College professor, Sheldon Solomon, traveled to a Utah ski lodge to introduce what would become a major theory of social psychology. The setting was a conference of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, a prestigious professional organization. Solomon’s theory explained that people embrace cultural worldviews and strive for self-esteem largely to cope with the fear of death. The reception he got was as frosty as the snow piled up outside.
The crowd’s unease was apparent as he began talking about thinkers who had influenced him, such as Marx, Kierkegaard, and Freud. At least half the audience disappeared before Solomon could lay out the full theory, recalls Jeff Greenberg, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who had developed the ideas with Solomon and was watching the talk from the back of the room. Greenberg saw some well-known psychologists physically shaking. "It was like a visceral negative reaction to what Sheldon was conveying," he says.

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