The article that I have chosen to critique looks at how death anxiety may be impacted by experiencing traumatizing betrayal from someone they had a close relationship with. I came across this topic when searching online and I found it to be intriguing as many people such as myself have or will experience betrayal at some point in their lives. It can have such a large impact that it causes people to keep their guard up when it comes to future relationships as a self-defense mechanism, so they don’t get hurt again. For this study, Yalch and Levendosky (2018) decided to explore how experiencing betrayal can increase death anxiety.
There have been other similar studies that came to the conclusion that death anxiety is the deeper cause of all psychological distress (Iverach, Menzies, & Menzies, 2014; Langan, 2003; May, 1953, 1969; Stolorow, 2015; Yalom, 2008). Another study extremely similar to this one states that traumatic experiences may increase death anxiety which could make the unavoidability of death more evident (Boulanger, 2007). Past research shows that death anxiety forecasts posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms more than other symptoms of psychological distress (Martz, 2004; Safren et al., 2003). According to the betrayal trauma theory (Freyd, 1996; Kaehler et al., 2013), traumatic experiences are more likely to cause psychological anguish if they occurred with someone the person relied on for security or support.
According to the study, researchers investigated the relationship between trauma with different levels of betrayal and death anxiety. It was believed that elevated betrayal trauma would have a strong positive correlation with death anxiety more than lower levels of betrayal trauma.
For starters, this study used 915 college students from a large university located in the Midwestern United States. The group ranged from age 18 to 38 years old with a mean age of 20 years old. The group consisted of 72% females and 28% males. The ethnicities represented were 74% White, 11% Asian, 6% Black, 5% multicultural (or those who selected other), and 3% Latina. This study uses the survey method for both parts as both consists of questionnaires with a scale of potential responses from each person.
Death anxiety was measured using the Death Anxiety Scale or DAS (DAS; Templer, 1970). The DAS is a questionnaire that contains 15 questions related to death anxieties and for this study, each statement had a scale that ranged from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” for the participants to select from. The internal consistency of the DAS was in the significant range at .79.
Betrayal trauma was then measured using the Brief Betrayal Trauma Survey or BBTS (BBTS; Goldberg & Freyd, 2006). The BBTS was also a questionnaire consisting of 24 items that were used to measure the presence as well as the frequency of traumatic experiences they have experienced. The scale for each item on this ranged from “never” to “1 or 2 times” and “more than that”. Each item on the BBTS was also put into a subscale of either high, medium, or low betrayal. In internal consistencies for each subscale from high to low were .77, .82, and .73.
Based on the methods used for the study, 39% experienced high betrayal trauma, 48% experienced medium betrayal trauma, and 54% had experienced low betrayal trauma. Trauma with the different levels of betrayal had “medium-sized positive correlations” with one another. They studied the effects of trauma with different levels of betrayal and high betrayal trauma showed a medium or mild influence on death anxiety in comparison to medium and low betrayal trauma. The influence of high betrayal trauma was “credibly” larger than the influence of other types of trauma. The amount of variance accounted for by traumatic experiences from the study was credible at .2. This ultimately means that those who experienced high betrayal were more likely to have more death anxiety than someone who experienced medium or low levels of betrayal.
The researcher’s hypothesis was ultimately supported by the results in that those who experienced high levels of traumatic betrayal were much more likely to experience death anxiety than those who experienced lower levels of betrayal trauma. This study’s results provide information as to how death anxiety comes about and how traumatic experiences can cause it to happen. These results are consistent with previous studies showing that high levels of betrayal lead to psychological distress. When it comes to this study, aside from the participant’s names and responses being released (which did not happen), there are not any ethical implications involved in this study.
This study had plenty of participants but because the study had less than 1,000 people from a single university, it may be a stretch to say that it is truly representative of society in the United States or even around the world. Therefore, it could be said that courtesy bias is a limitation of the survey questionnaires used for this study. Another limitation is that people may not be too sure how to respond to the items on the questionnaires so they put what they thought fit them the best although it may not be entirely accurate. It is also possible but unlikely that people lied for their responses which could skew the results of the study. Based on the way this study was completed, there is not any way to improve the study aside from increasing the sample size. There is no way to prevent people from lying on a survey or having that bias, that is just a risk that comes with a survey.
At the end of the study, the researchers suggest that future research looks into hopelessness and helplessness and their association with high betrayal trauma and death anxiety. Death anxiety could be related to many experiences in a person’s life and completing studies where connections are made to other experiences such as the death of a family member or friend or even ongoing events such as someone lacking friends could provide insight into other causes of death anxiety.
Impact & Importance
This study could impact on psychology around the country and the world. Knowing that someone having death anxiety may stem from experiencing traumatic betrayal would allow psychologists to work with their patients and figure out if that is the same in their case. They could then use their knowledge about the person’s past experiences to help them reflect on their situation and move past so that they do not have anxiety about death. Death is a part of life and everyone will experience it so the less that people stress and worry about it, the better quality of life they will be able to experience.
This study was very eye-opening for me and could have a large impact on people who struggle with death anxiety and how psychologists go about helping and treating their patients who experience death anxiety. I am hopeful that this study could lead to a consistent cure for death anxiety, at least in the case where it was caused by a traumatic betrayal experience.
- Iverach, L., Menzies, R. G., & Menzies, R. E. (2014). Death anxiety and its role in psychopathology: Reviewing the status of a transdiagnostic construct. Clinical Psychology Review, 34, 580 –593.
- Langan, R. (2003). The dissolving of dissolving itself. In J. D. Safran (Ed.), Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: An unfolding dialogue (pp. 131–146). Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.
- May, R. (1953). Man’s search for himself. New York, NY: Norton & Co.
- May, R. (1969). Love and will. New York, NY: Norton.
- Stolorow, R. D. (2015). A phenomenological– contextual, existential, and ethical perspective on emotional trauma. Psychoanalytic Review, 102, 123–138. http://dx.doi.org/10.1521/ prev.2015.102.1.123
- Yalch, M. M., & Levendosky, A. A. (2018). Influence of betrayal trauma on death anxiety. The Humanistic Psychologist, 46(4), 390-398.
- Yalom, I. D. (2008). Staring at the sun: Overcoming the terror of death. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.