We are proud to announce the first Kimmela Center white paper, entitled “I Am NOT an Animal!” Denial of Death and the Relationship between Humans and Other Animals, by Lori Marino and Michael Mountain.

This paper is part of a long-term project that examines the psychological dynamics of our treatment of nonhuman animals in the context of our deep fear of death.

In 1973 cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker published his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death, in which he put forth the thesis that when we humans are reminded of our own mortality (even unconsciously), we defend against that idea by denying our mortal animal nature, along with whatever may remind us that we are animals. Instead, we are driven to claim superiority and human exceptionalism in an attempt to transcend our mortality.

Becker’s theory became the basis for the field of social psychology known as Terror Management Theory (referring to how we deal with the anxiety of mortality awareness). And in the years that followed, hundreds of scientific studies demonstrated that reminders of our own mortality create a strong psychological need to proclaim that “I am not an animal!” and how this need drives the urge to dominate and exploit people who appear to threaten the cultural views in which we cloak ourselves to defend against mortality.

More recently, studies have taken Terror Management Theory a step further by showing that mortality anxiety also drives us toward dominating, exploiting and abusing nonhuman animals and the natural world.

In our new white paper, updated from the 2015 peer-reviewed paper in Anthrozoos, the authors employ Terror Management Theory to explain our continued exploitation and abuse of other animals and what this means for our future on this planet.