PSY 802 Lecture Notes - Lecture 6: Magical Thinking, John Bowlby, Irreversible Process
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Chapter 6 - Death and the Child
College students recalled their first experiences of death vividly, saying they felt anxiety,
confusion, anger, happiness, relief. I this, little difference between children and adults is
Differences are noted in how adults dealt with the child. Example: given confusing
explanations, false impressions.
First Childhood Experiences of Death
One of the earliest and best-known studies of children's conceptions of death. In
Hungary during WWII.
Asked children 3-10 years "what is death?"
Curious about death, regard it as much like life but in a diminished form
STAGE 1 3-5 yrs:
Recognize finality of death
Personify it (e.g. Grim Reaper)
Idea that death comes to everyone not fully fixed yet
STAGE 2 5-9:
Understand death as adults do, an event that will happen to everyone
STAGE 3 9+ yrs:
Concluded that children pass through 3 stages of understanding
Maria Nagy's Research
Refined understanding of how children conceive of death.
Reviewed relevant literature to analyze major components of the concept of death.
Understanding of some components may proceed independently of understanding of
Irreversibility. Once death has occurred, it cannot be reversed.
Nonfunctionality. When death occurs, all life sustaining functions cease.
Universality. Death comes to every living thing.
Causality. What causes death? Why do living things die?
Personal mortality. An understanding that the individual himself or herself will die.
Speece and Brent's 5 components of death:
Speece and Brent's Research
Limited cognitive skills, but still has emotional reactions to the death of a familiar
Infants show outrage, confusion, despair and depression when caregivers
Recognize that a familiar person is gone, this causes them pain.
Difficult to be sure what they understand.
Infancy (Birth-3yrs old)
Children have some conception of death, although limited and inaccurate.
Children do not understand components of Speece and Brent's research until
about 5 yrs. Before this, they show magical thinking, that somehow death will be
Do not see death as final or irreversible
Believe people can come back to life
Can be very disturbed by the closing of a casket
Believe death does not come to everyone
Early Childhood (3-5 yrs)
Have a clearer understanding of the irreversibility of death, although their
understanding is not yet complete until 9-10 yrs.
Universality develops first, then irreversibility then nonfunctionality, with causality
Middle Childhood (5-10 yrs)
Children's Conceptions of Death
Week 6 - Death and Children
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