Assessing the emotional impact of cadaver dissection on medical students


: Professor R.E. O'Carroll, School of Psychology, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews KY16 9JU, UK. Tel.: 00 44 1334 463041; Fax: 00 44 1334 463042; E-mail:


Aim The study's first aim was to assess the emotional impact of cadaver dissection on first year medical students using the newly developed Appraisal of Life Events Scale (ALE). Its secondary aim was to evaluate the validity of the ALE by comparing it with the Impact of Events Scale (IOE).

Setting  Division of Biomedical Sciences, School of Biology, University of St. Andrews.

Subjects and Method  Appraisal of Life Events and Impact of Events data were obtained from 114 UK medical students 4 weeks after their first cadaver dissecting class. Main outcome measures referred to the ALE and IOE scales.

Results  The students rated the experience as largely positive, registering significantly higher scores on the ALE challenge factor than on ALE threat or ALE loss. Significant correlations between ALE threat and loss scores and IOE intrusions and avoidance scores were noted.

Conclusion  The results indicate that medical students do not report their first exposure to cadaver dissection as an aversive experience. Instead, as the ALE results confirm, they found it to be a positive and challenging life event. The ALE appears to be a useful instrument in assessing positive and negative emotional reactions to significant life events.