Recent legislation passed in states including Georgia, Florida, and Kentucky have included clauses that govern “divisive” material and the manner in which this material is discussed, particularly in schools. The term “divisive” is never truly defined beyond content that is “patently offensive to prevailing standards.” The emphasis has been placed on the fact that students should not be biased by the information that they are taught or allowed to access, but definitions are lax as to what constitutes inappropriate information. The loose criteria as to what counts as “unsuitable” opens up divisive material to easy censorship based on partisan and political issues, which has occurred in the Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky bills. These bills rely on language such as “adverse treatment” and “psychological distress” to designate which material may or may not be appropriate for schools. This language is extremely subjective and specifically open to interpretation so as to be skewed towards the cultural or moral majority. This thesis hypothesizes that this language is targeted in order to protect the self-esteem and cultural worldview of the majority in power and can be evaluated according to the proposals of Terror Management Theory (TMT). TMT relies on the idea that individuals will utilize defense mechanisms in order to manage concepts that conflict with their beliefs. These belief systems are necessary for the maintenance of their self-esteem and feeling of success in society. In order to assess the degree to which recent legislation is simply a defense mechanism, TMT should be considered as an evaluation tool.
To create an accurate evaluation tool and determine the significance of TMT within legislation, I have identified the key assessment criteria within TMT, as well as specifically isolated key legislation that uses morally limiting and self-esteem-boosting language. These materials will allow me to determine the potential influence of TMT within legislation, and the very serious implications that it has when a piece of legislation meant for everyone and meant to determine a standard is instead based on the defense mechanisms, biased schemas, and prejudices of those in power.
Advisor(s) or Committee Chair
Jane Fife, Ph.D.
English Language and Literature | Political Science | Psychology
Roth, Elizabeth, "Terror Management Theory and Legislation: An Analysis of How Patterns Evolve and Change" (2023). Mahurin Honors College Capstone Experience/Thesis Projects. Paper 998.