Eighty subjects forming four equal groups (young males, young females, middle-aged females, and middle-aged males) participated in this study, in which the measurement and associated variables of Fear of Death were studied.
Two learning tasks, one involving paired associates, and the other free recall of a list of words in a short term memory situation were used to determine if the difference in response to death and death associated words was due to environmental factors or the nature of the stimuli. Two experimental groups were tested in a threatful and nonthreatful environment. This section attempted to determine if the perceptual defence that occurs with taboo (e.g. death) words was merely the result of anxiety arising from the perception of the taboo words in all circumstances, or if it was only evident in threatening situations.
The result indicated that the group in the threatening situation recalled less than a group in a non-threatening situation, and a control group given neutral words only, however few statistically significant. It appears that the intensity of the threat perceived in the environment may precipitate varying degrees of perceptual defence, not necessarily being due to anxiety provoking stimuli.
The subject then completed six of eight religious attitude scales of the Law “Theological Belief Inventory”, Scarnoff and Corwin’s Fear of Death scale, whilst readings were taken from a psycho-galvanmeter, and an information inventory outlining the subjects’ experience with several death associated variables.
A conscious fear of death may be developed for a variety of reasons. Different theorists have postulated such causative measure as castration anxiety, traumatic events, fear of loss or destruction of the ego or the self or be loss of a loved one. Fear of Death is believed to develop during the early stages of the child’s development.
There was an overall mild negative relationship between fear of death and a subject’s G.S.R. Higher G.S.R.’s were associated with the more discriminating questions on the Fear of Death scale.
A significant positive relationship was found between fear of death and age for males, with middle-aged males having a significantly higher fear of death than young males, and young females having a significantly higher fear of death than young males. In general non-significant relationships were found between fear of death and several variables concerned with a subject’s previous contact with death. However, more significant results may have been obtained from a more discriminating Fear of Death scale.
Young female’s major concern about death was the pain of dying, whilst the middle-age females were more concerned with the welfare of their family and dependents. The male’s major concern was the death of their friends or relatives.
A trend appeared in the religious attitude results, where those with a low fear of death tended to score highly on Moralism and Fundamentalism, the more definite, un-ambiguous or “secure” religious areas; whereas some with a high fear of death tended to score highly on Humanism and Sciencism, which are more ambiguous and “Godless.
Multiple regression analysis indicated the predictor variables accounted for a relatively low percentage of the criterion variance, but has a high significant predictive efficiency. A set of predictor beta weights revealed the major positive loading was on age and the major negative leading on Moralism score. Future research could further critically examine the measurement techniques of fear of death, and extend the studies of death associated variable e.g. age, expected life span, religion and religious denomination.