Cicirelli, V.G. (2002). Fear of Death in Older Adults: Predictions From Terror Management Theory. Journal of Gerontology, 57(4), 358-366. The reviewed article by Victor Cicirelli focuses on examining the nature of the fear of death in older adults and testing the assumptions that stem out of the terror management theory on the real sample of older adults. The terror management theory attempts to explain why does the fear of death becomes weaker as people age and maintains that as individuals are socialized throughout life, they internalize the cultural narratives of literal or symbolic immortality that promise that one has a chance of avoiding the complete annihilation through religion or by leaving something or someone behind themselves. Hence, this theory assumes that the more one is socialized and connected with the community and the more one accepts the responsibility for their life, the less intense their fear of death will be. The reviewed study intends to test these implications on a real sample. The present analysis will focus on assessing the way the study was carried out, its key findings, and limitations.
Aiming at measuring the assumptions of the terror management theory, the study relied on the extensive survey designed to measure the intensity of participants’ fear of death as well as other variable that are considered as important from the perspective of the tested theory including religiosity, self-esteem, locus of control, perceived level of social support, self-esteem, and health. The participants were recruited from one medium-sized Midwestern city and from the large city. Overall, the survey was completed by 388 participants, among whom 73% were women, and 32% were Blacks. All participants were seniors aged at least 60 who were located with the help of senior organizations. After the data were collected, they were analyzed with statistical methods.
Overall, the obtained results have confirmed the hypotheses of the terror management theory. Namely, the greater reported levels of health, social support, religiosity, as well as the internal locus of control were associated with weaker fear of death in older adults. This indicates that by being actively involved in one’s community and having stronger religious beliefs, seniors adopt the beliefs of literal or symbolic immortality, and thus, experience lower levels of fear of death. One assumption that was not supported by the obtained results was that positive self-esteem predicts lower fear of death. Overall, the study results are supportive of the terror management theory and its assumption that society offers cultural and personal narratives that help individuals deal with knowing that their lives will come to an end at some point.
The reviewed study can be regarded as trustworthy because it relies on the large sample of participants who have also proved that they “were alert, oriented, and of sufficient cognitive ability to respond to the interview-questionnaire” (Cicirelli, 2002, p. 360) before participating in the study. Further, the study relies on reliable statistical methods for evaluating the obtained data. However, one major weakness of the study is that all the participants were recruited from the organizations of seniors which usually unite active and socially-involved older adults who are not representative of all the senior population. One other weakness is that the study attempts to measure rather vague aspects of the participants’ personalities and it is difficult to be sure that the used scales can do it adequately.
Overall, despite a couple of weaknesses the study offers some valuable insights about the nature and predispositions for the fear of death in older adults and offers evidence for the terror management theory which maintains that socialization offers a number of cultural narratives that help individuals deal with the fear of death. The study is well thought-out and should be regarded as worthwhile. From this study, I have gained a better understanding of what underpins the fear of death in older adults as well as potential remedies for this fear, and thus, recommend this article to everyone interested in this topic. However, it would also be beneficial to validate this study in more diverse samples as part of the required further research.
- Cicirelli, V.G. (2002). Fear of Death in Older Adults: Predictions From Terror Management Theory. Journal of Gerontology, 57(4), 358-366.