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Terror's Epistemic Consequences: Existential Threat and the Quest for Certainty and Closure


The September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, in which thousands found their demise, the aftermath of these assaults, and their ripple effects, have altered the world dramatically. The images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center, the collapse of the Twin Towers, and desperate individuals leaping to their death, transmitted by television networks across the globe ushered in an age of existential anxiety of heretofore unknown dimensions. If residents of the most important cities in the most powerful nation on earth cannot be free from the horrors of terrorism, no one, many have felt, can feel safe anymore. The continuous conflicts of ethnic, political, or religious nature combined with the ever-advancing technologies of mass destruction put the specter of annihilation in the forefront of people's awareness the world over and imbued everyday experiences with considerable existential uncertainty. Under these circumstances, the scientific study of existential fears and their implications for social behavior should contribute substantially to the appreciation of the psychology of our time. In the sections that follow, we review recent theoretical analyses and empirical data of considerable relevance to these concerns.

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Dechesne, Mark, and Arie Kruglanski. 2004. “Terror's Epistemic Consequences: Existential Threat and the Quest for Certainty and Closure.” In Handbook of Experimental Existential Psychology, eds. Jeff Greenberg, Sander L. Koole, and Tom Pyszczynski. New York: Guildford Press, 247-63. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2004-21900-016

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