Death anxiety, dissent, and competence

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Abstract

A total of 64 male undergraduates were administered a multistage interview which was structured to assess (a) their level of overtly expressed death anxiety, (b) covert (GSR) arousal to death stimuli, (c) self-perceived competence, and (d) agreement with or dissent from life threatening national policies. The analyses that followed were concerned with examining the relationships among these variables. In previous studies of this kind it had been typically found that (1) self-perceived competence and magnitude of expressed death concern are inversely related and (2) overt expressions of death concern and covert physiological arousal to death cues are inversely related. Psychodynamic formulations centering on the ego-defensive nature of inhibited expressions of death anxiety have been cited to explain these past data. The current investigation proposed that the magnitude of expressed death concern would bear an inverse relationship to both felt competence and covert death arousal only when the level of overt concern was not contingent upon the individual's attitudes concerning the imminence of real life threatening circumstances in the environment. The rationale behind these predictions inheres in the notion that the neurotic components of strongly expressed death anxiety derive from its lack of anchoring in “real” external threats. Conversely, the expression of low death fear can only be regarded as “defensive” when real threats are perceived and acknowledged. The obtained results strongly support this rationale and the discussion centers on the impact of social conditions on psychodynamic processes.

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