Academic journal article Pakistan Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology

Perceptions of Death among Pakistani Undergraduates

Academic journal article Pakistan Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology

Perceptions of Death among Pakistani Undergraduates

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to map the mental schema of death espoused by contemporary Pakistani youth. A convenient sample of 100 undergraduate students was taken and an open-ended questionnaire was used to procure words/phrases that came to the participants' minds when they thought of death. From among the response pool of 2000 words, the top 20 in terms of frequency were selected. Multidimensional scaling and cluster analysis were used for the cognitive mapping of the death concept. A two-dimensional map and a cluster structure consisting of three main clusters were thus obtained. Overall, the conceptualization of death in the minds of young men and women in Pakistan was found to be a complex interweaving of modernity and tradition with tradition being the stronger influence. In the death schema discovered, the sub construct of noncorporeal continuation proposed by Speece (1995) is very prominent. Implications for future research are discussed.

Keywords: death concept, cognitive mapping, tradition, modernity, young adults

Of all the phenomena that have mystified humans since the earliest times to the present day, death is perhaps the most intriguing. It is so many things at the same time: it is the end of life and yet, as millions believe, the beginning of another; so it is potently present in literature and history, religion and philosophy, art and sciences, medicine and media and yet so carefully marginalized, tabooed and concealed; treated sometimes as an anomaly, a gross morbidity and sometimes as the very essence of nature. Simultaneously commonplace and magical, fearsome and fascinating, odious to most but alluring to a few, death seems to have a thousand faces and men and women throughout history have struggled to make sense of it.

Psychology's engagement with the phenomenon of death is fairly recent. For a long time after its inception as a separate field, Psychology remained supremely indifferent to death and mortality issues. Owing primarily to the efforts of Herman Feifel, the situation began to change in the 1950' s and death came to be acknowledged as a legitimate area of inquiry. Research on the topic continued to increase thereafter reaching a 'publication explosion in the 1970's (Neimeyer, Wittkowski, & Moser, 2004, p.311). Research addressed a wide array of issues including the causes, correlates, and outcomes of death anxiety, responses to life threatening illness, dynamics of grief and bereavement, risk-taking behavior, and suicide and involved diverse populations in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, personality variables, and health status, etc.

One important area that has received considerable attention is the concept or construction of death in different age groups, across cultures, and in relation to different variables such as trauma, bereavement or attachment (Kastenbaum, 2006). The bulk of these studies investigate death concept in children while studies on adolescent population, young adults and other age groups are fewer(Cicirelli, 1998). The standard practice while exploring personal meanings of death has been to presume the existence of a 'mature' adult concept comprising four subconcepts: universality, irreversibility, non functionality, and causality (Mahon, 1999).It is also presumed that children progressively move closer to this mature conception in a manner that largely mirrors the Piagetian model. This mature-death- concept model has been questioned on several grounds (Kastenbaum, 2006; Speece, 1995). It implies that by the time a child reaches adolescence, he/she has managed to acquire a reasonably mature concept which remains largely unchanged thereafter . I. C. Noppe and Noppe (1997) argue that this has "inhibited continued exploration of the adolescents' conception of death" (p. 254). While challenging the view that there is only a single mature manner of regarding death (the one rooted in western rationality), Kastenbaum (2006) states, "there have been more believers than disbelievers in survival of human death since the beginning of human society. …

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