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Reactions to Death Across the Life Span

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  • 0:01 Death
  • 1:10 Death Anxiety
  • 4:17 Attitude
  • 5:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

In this lesson we will explore the reactions many people have to their impending mortality. In here we take a basic definition of death and examine the anxiety and attitudes people have about death.

Death

I think this is an appropriately safe and confidential way to share my biggest fear. Most people are afraid to speak in public, some people are afraid of snakes or spiders. I am terrified of death. And it is one of those things that the more you are exposed to it the more terrifying it gets - because it's permanent!

Death has many definitions, depending on how specific you want to get. Here we will describe it as the permanent cessation of cognitive processes. There are specific medical criteria that must be met to have a medical, or clinical, death - things like pupil fixation, body temperature, and lack of reflexes. But that's a little more specific than we need to get into for this lesson, but I encourage you to view other lessons on the different types of death.

As we discussed, death is my number one fear. It is a permanent loss of who you are in this world. Many other people have similar anxiety when it comes to death, and many people find protection from it by various means. Let's examine what death anxiety is and how attitudes toward death change over a lifetime.

Death Anxiety

Death anxiety is dread due to the awareness of one's own mortality. Human beings appear to be one of the few animals cognizant of their own death. A quick anthropology lesson shows that it was homo neanderthalensis, also known as the Neanderthal, an early cousin of homo sapiens, were the first group to bury their dead. A handful of graves have been found with plant fibers and pollen inside of them. Just two species in the entire world have buried their dead with items. Unfortunately there's no more Neanderthals to talk to about their death rituals or thoughts on death.

Moving on to reactions to death throughout a single lifetime, we'll be focusing on adults and young adults. Childhood development and their reactions to death is not really the focus of this lesson.

Adolescents interacting with death often take an egocentric view. It is not uncommon for adolescents to spend a great deal of time thinking about what the last thing they said to a person was. They may focus on their memories of the individual. When it comes to actually grieving, adolescents will more often act out behaviorally instead of coming forward with emotions. They lack the higher processes needed to say, 'I am acting this way because I am mad at the universe for taking my grandfather.'

Young adults will fare better than adolescents. A young adult's interaction with death is highly dependent on who dies. Young adults whose parents die often are deeply impacted, and it may alter how they interact with the world for a long time. Young adults who interact with expected death express a wide range of emotions. It is normal for young adults to run a gamut of emotions, from very angry to very sad to just numb. At this age, we see some interaction with others during the grieving process, and many often take on additional roles and responsibilities.

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