The effects of occupational contact with death upon death anxiety
Zingraf, Lynn E.
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The purpose of this thesis was to examine the effects of occupational contact with death upon an individual's level of anxiety towards death. The paper assumed that persons derive the meaning of death through interaction within society, and that the most common meaning attached to death involves fear and anxiety. It was assumed that one way in which these fears and anxieties could be decreased was through exposure to death, one such area of exposure being with occupations which have frequent contact with death. It was therefore hypothesized that there was a negative relationship between occupational contact with death and one's level of death anxiety. The variables examined included occupational status, years of experience on the job, and death anxiety. Subjects included pathologists, coroners, and law enforcement officers involved in a series of Death Investigation Seminars held at Northern Illinois University. Also included were students enrolled in the Sociology of Death and Dying classes, and a group of control students, all at Northern Illinois University. Subjects were administered a questionnaire containing a Death Anxiety Scale (DAS) developed by Templer in 1970, and a few demographic questions. Subsequently, the relationships of occupational status, and years of experience on the job to death anxiety were examined. The analysis indicated that there was a significant relationship betv/een occupational contact with death and levels of death anxiety. Persons who were employed in occupations which had frequent contact with death showed lower levels of death anxiety as measured by the DAS than did either of the student groups, indicating support of the negative relationship between the variables. This relationship, although significant, was a relatively weak one. The analysis also pointed to slight trends toward an increase in death anxiety for these types of occupations when grouped as a whole, after the first two years on the job, with a leveling off thereafter. When years of experience in relationship to death anxiety was examined by each occupation individually, however, this trend was not discernible. These latter findings, however, were not significant, only trends were indicated which were not conclusive. Due to the significant, but weak, and also the insignificant relationships found, the validity and the reliability of the DAS were challenged. Problems with the current design were indicated and further research endeavors were encouraged along with suggestions for further attempts to qualify these relationships. The thesis, overall, pointed to the importance of study in the area of death and death related attitudes.