Children’s and adults’ understanding of death: Cognitive, parental, and experiential influences

Panagiotaki, Georgia ORCID:, Hopkins, Michelle, Nobes, Gavin ORCID:, Ward, Emma ORCID: and Griffiths, Debra (2018) Children’s and adults’ understanding of death: Cognitive, parental, and experiential influences. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 166. pp. 96-115. ISSN 0022-0965

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This study explored the development of understanding of death in a sample of 4- to 11-year-old British children and adults (N = 136). It also investigated four sets of possible influences on this development: parents’ religion and spiritual beliefs, cognitive ability, socioeconomic status, and experience of illness and death. Participants were interviewed using the “death concept” interview that explores understanding of the subcomponents of inevitability, universality, irreversibility, cessation, and causality of death. Children understood key aspects of death from as early as 4 or 5 years, and with age their explanations of inevitability, universality, and causality became increasingly biological. Understanding of irreversibility and the cessation of mental and physical processes also emerged during early childhood, but by 10 years many children’s explanations reflected not an improved biological understanding but rather the coexistence of apparently contradictory biological and supernatural ideas—religious, spiritual, or metaphysical. Evidence for these coexistent beliefs was more prevalent in older children than in younger children and was associated with their parents’ religious and spiritual beliefs. Socioeconomic status was partly related to children’s biological ideas, whereas cognitive ability and experience of illness and death played less important roles. There was no evidence for coexistent thinking among adults, only a clear distinction between biological explanations about death and supernatural explanations about the afterlife.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: understanding of death,coexistent thinking,parental influences,religion,afterlife beliefs,conceptual development
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > Norwich Medical School
Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Psychology

Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Social Work
Depositing User: Pure Connector
Date Deposited: 29 Jul 2017 05:10
Last Modified: 22 Oct 2022 02:56
DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2017.07.014

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