Attitudes and Beliefs about Death and Dying Held by Black South African University Students

Article excerpt

Using the Lester Attitude Towards Death Scale (LATDS), a study was conducted on a convenience sample of 179 Black South African university students to investigate their attitudes towards, and beliefs about, death and dying. It was found that overall the students held positive attitudes towards, death and dying. However, this was not influenced by any of the demographic variables tested. The implications of these findings on several topical death-related issues in South Africa are discussed.

Although the issues of death and dying have been widely written about in the past (e.g., see Boston & Trezise, 1987; Burnell & Burnell, 1989; Craig, 1989; Gordon, 1978; Howarth & Jupp, 1996; Kubler-Ross, 1986a, 1986b; Wass, Berardo, & Neimeyer, 1988), a relatively few empirical studies have been carried out, mostly in the western world, to investigate attitudes and beliefs towards them (for a review, see Lonneto & Templer, 1986). These studies have revealed that in spite of recent advances in medicine, science and technology, people in the West generally still fear death (Gesser, Wong, & Reker, 1987; Kubler-Ross, 1986a, 1986b; Stevens & Hassan, 1994) and that this behavior is mediated by factors such as age (see Neusadt, 1982 in Lonetto & Templer, 1986; although cf. Lonetto & Templer, 1986), gender (Templer, Ruff, & Franks, 1971 in Lonetto & Templer, 1986), and culture as well as religion (see Howarth & Jupp, 1996; Kalish & Reynolds, 1981). The present study was therefore carried out in response to the dearth of similar studies in non-Western and developing countries like South Africa.

The aims of this study were twofold: firstly, to describe the attitudes towards and beliefs about, death and dying held by a sample group of Black psychology students at a South African university; secondly, to determine the influence of age, gender, culture and religion on such behavior.

Two hypotheses were advanced. The first hypothesis was that Black South African university students' attitudes towards death and dying would be negative as was found in previous studies conducted in the West and as alluded to above. This was anticipated because of the hegemony and pervasiveness of Western culture found throughout the world today. Secondly, age, gender, culture and religion would influence the students' attitudes towards, and beliefs about, death and dying as has been found in some previous studies in the West.

METHOD

PARTICIPANTS

A convenience sample of 179 Black second-year psychology students studying at a South African university served as participants in the study. The majority of the participants were indigenous Africans (80%) and the rest were Coloureds (20%) (see Reference Note 1). The mean age of the participants was 22.5 years and the majority of them (72.5 %) were females. Furthermore, most of them (85% in both cases) were single as well as Christian - both being norms for this population. Finally, the majority of them (75.4%) came from urban areas. The site of the study is located in Cape Town, a large metropolitan city of over 3 million people.

RESEARCH TOOL

The Lester Attitude Toward Death Scale (LATDS) developed by Lester (1991) was employed to collect data. This scale consists of 21 items describing views about death to which respondents respond by either agreeing or disagreeing. The scores are weighted differently as per response corresponding to the statement on the questionnaire. The median values of the items a respondent agrees to are added to give the maximum score possible for that respondent (Lester). The higher the score, the more positive attitude towards death one holds (Lester). For the present study, a median cut-off score of 70.28 was used with scores equal to and higher being interpreted as holding a positive attitude towards death and dying while lower scores were interpreted as showing a negative attitude.

With regard to reliability of the LATDS, Lester (1991) found the Spearman rank correlation between the two parallel forms to be 0. …