You're going to die one day. You belong to the only species that is consciously aware of this simple, universally true fact. And just being reminded that you will someday die can manipulate your behavior now — in ways that seemingly have little to do with death.

Five to 10 minutes after reading this article, once you've pushed conscious thoughts of death out of your mind, you'll probably become more interested in being famous, more likely to support a charismatic leader, and potentially more interested in having children. You may also be less likely to approve of breastfeeding and more supportive of war. At least, this is what studies have found.

The reason? According to theorists in the field of Terror Management, all of these attitude changes serve to bolster us in the face of our mortality. When death hovers at the edge of consciousness, humans strive to push it down.

"In order to function with psychological equanimity in the world, we humans have to believe there's something more, that we're not just these creatures that are fated to obliteration upon death," said Jeff Greenberg, a psychologist at the University of Arizona.

Greenberg, along with psychologists Tom Pyszczynski, and Sheldon Solomon, is one of the inventors of Terror Management Theory, the idea that the need to cope with death influences a wide range of human behaviors. The three are also authors of the recent book " The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life" (Random House, 2015).

The trio first formally proposed their theory in 1986, after reading the work of Ernest Becker, an anthropologist and author of " The Denial of Death," which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974. In the book, Becker theorized that much of human behavior is driven by the search for immortality, both literal (belief in an afterlife) and figurative (the desire to leave a mark on the world or be part of something greater than ourselves).

"We realized that he was making a lot of sense," Greenberg said.

The researchers came up with the evocative name for the theory during a conference in 1984, Greenberg recalled. "We wanted to convey the essence of what it was about, and clearly that was the terror of death," he said. He "blurted out" the name Terror Management Theory to his colleague Sheldon Solomon, and they both laughed in approval and added it to their presentation.

"In the 1980s, numerous elder statespersons of the field chided us on the lurid nature of the theory's name!" Greenberg wrote in an email. "Didn't bother us, though."

The psychologists had a name for their theory. But, being scientists, they also needed proof to back it up.

The psychology of death

Becker held that people tamp down their anxiety about death by boosting their self-esteem, assuring themselves that they have value in a meaningful universe. One way to do this is to link yourself to something bigger: your own culture or worldview.

To test this idea, Greenberg and his colleagues recruited a group of municipal court judges and asked some of them to jot down feelings about their own deaths. Shortly after, the judges were given a hypothetical case in which they had to set bond for a woman arrested for prostitution.

Thinking about death had a huge effect on the judges' decisions, the team reported in October 1989 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Judges who hadn't pondered death set bond at $50, on average. Judges who had thought about their own mortality set bond nearly 10 times higher — at $455. Presumably, thoughts of death made the judges cling tighter to their own worldviews, which were of the law-and-order type.

Follow-up experiments showed that this effect was unique to death; people don't respond this way when confronted with thoughts of pain or failure. The effect is also largely subconscious. When people ponder death consciously, they tend to be rational about it, said Pyszczynski, who works at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

"You think, 'I really need to make an appointment to get this thing on my skin checked out,' or 'I really need to get more exercise or quit smoking,'" he said.

It's when the thoughts of death are at the edge of awareness that the mind starts its terror-denying gymnastics routine.

"People deal with the problem of death with things that have no relation to death whatsoever," Pyszczynski said.

For example: breastfeeding. A 2007 study found that after people were reminded of death, they became more negative toward breastfeeding in public and less welcoming of a person described as breastfeeding in a nearby room. Breastfeeding, the researchers found, reminded people of their animal nature, or "creatureliness." Another study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2014, found that when reminded of their own creatureliness with thoughts of pregnancy, menstruation and breastfeeding, women became more likely to objectify themselves. Essentially, the researchers suggested, they tried to view themselves as objects in order to deny their own mortality.

On the other hand, multiple studies have shown that thoughts of death increase people's enthusiasm for having children — and even changes their attitudes towards baby names. A 2011 study published in The Journal of Research in Personality found that after being reminded of death, people became more interested in naming a child after themselves. What better way to live on than through a namesake?

Thinking about morality is also associated with an increased desire for fame, according to research by Greenberg and others. People reminded of their deaths desired fame more, were more interested in having a star in the sky named after them and even cast a kinder eye on paintings supposedly done by Johnny Depp (the celebrity of choice in this particular experiment).

Circling the wagons

Perhaps the most striking effect of thinking about one's death, however, is that it makes humans more insular.

The theory, Greenberg said, works like this: As children, we're completely helpless. We learn quickly that to keep our parents' love and protection, we have to behave in certain ways and uphold certain values. As we age and become aware of bigger and bigger threats in the world, our parents are less able to play that protective role.

"What we do is we transfer that function of providing psychological security to larger structures," Greenberg said. That might mean God, country, or concepts like freedom and democracy.

Thus, when death threatens, we cling to those values ever tighter. This has some interesting effects. A 2011 study in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science found that thoughts of mortality made people more likely to support a charismatic leader who shares one's worldview. In a 2006 study, working with Iranian researchers, Pyszczynski and his colleagues found that Iranian students in a control condition preferred a peace-preaching person to a suicide-bomber, but mortality reminders made the participants grow more supportive of terrorist attacks against Americans. And Americans, particularly conservatives, who were reminded of 9/11 attacks, were more supportive of war against Iraq and even nuclear attack against threatening nations, according to 2011 research. Studies in Israel echoed these findings.

"We have something in common with our enemies, in that we're all driven by the basic fear that comes from being human," Pyszczynski said.

But Terror Management isn't all bad. Thinking of death can increase people's charitable behavior, Greenberg said. And wealthy people often strive to leave their mark on the world through charitable giving or foundations that do good.

"It has the most to do with the nature of your worldview," Greenberg said. If your worldview suggests positive ways to leave your mark on the world, thinking of death will drive you to do good. If it suggests negative ways, like terrorism or infamy, thinking of death is likely to have bad outcomes.

Understanding Terror Management makes it easier to grasp why people can believe things that seem, to outsiders, completely absurd. Studying the field has made Greenberg feel less judgmental — and more self-aware of the ways in which he tries to be of value in the world.

"The truth is that we're all insecure," he said. "We're all dealing with the vulnerability of the knowledge of our own mortality."