Circumstances of Death, Religiosity, and Innocence of the Victims As Factors In Sympathy and Support Towards the Deceased and Their Families

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Larry Gates

Advisor Department



This study replicated and elaborated on previous studies by Calhoun, Selby, and Faulstich (1980) and by Reynolds and Cimbolic, (1988). These researchers found that subjects had more difficulty expressing sympathy and/or support to the family of a deceased person and that person if the cause of death was suicide rather than illness or accident. In addition this study looked at other causes of death, such as cocaine overdose, alcohol-related death, and death caused by criminal activity. This study also looked at the religious affiliation of the deceased. Ten scenarios were studied using six items similar to those used in previous studies. On several items in some of the scenarios, the religious affiliation of the deceased made a difference in the subjects' answers. Many had difficulty in expressing sympathy for an atheist or a witch. On several items it became apparent that the level of control the deceased had over their death made a difference in the subjects' responses. Also apparent was the fact that those whose death was crime related received the most extreme responses from the subjects, with one noticeable exception--the scenario in which the deceased was a witch. The results found for alcohol- and cocaine-related deaths raises the possibility that the public views these two drugs with similar feelings and that the only real difference in the public's eyes is that one is legal and the other is illegal.