A more humanistic approach toward dissection has emerged. However, student attitudes toward this approach are unknown and the influences on such attitudes are little understood. One hundred and fifty-six first-year medical students participated in a study examining firstly, attitudes toward the process of dissection and the personhood of the cadaver and secondly, the extent to which gender, anxiety, exposure to dissection, bereavement and prior experience of a dead body influenced these attitudes. Attitudes toward dissection were assessed by of levels of agreement toward eleven statements and by selection of adjectives describing possible feelings toward dissection. Students were asked about recent bereavement, whether they had seen a dead body prior to starting their course and exposure to dissection when completing the questionnaire. Validated instruments were used to measure disposition toward generalized anxiety (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) and toward death anxiety (Collett-Lester Death Anxiety Scale). Between 60% and 94% of students held positive attitudes toward the process of dissection and over 70% of students selected 2 or fewer negative adjectives. Students' attitudes toward the personhood of the cadaver were more disparate. Disposition toward anxiety (particularly death anxiety), and exposure to dissection, influenced attitudes. Female gender and recent bereavement exerted a negative influence. Students with higher levels of anxiety experienced more negative feelings and those recently bereaved were less enthusiastic about dissection. Anticipation of dissection may be worse than reality. Sensitive preparation of students prior to entering the dissecting room for the first time may be beneficial. Anat Sci Educ. © 2011 American Association of Anatomists.