| Death threat
| One long and fruitful line of
research deriving from personal construct
theory concerns the phenomenon of death threat,
the degree to which people sense awareness of imminent, comprehensive
change in their core role structure when
asked to reflect on their own mortality. The original, repertory grid -based measure of this
concept, the Threat Index (or TI)
(Krieger, Epting, & Leitner, 1974), required eliciting a sample of
death-relevant constructs (e.g., painful
vs. painless, meaningful vs. meaningless) from the respondent through a
triadic comparison of situations involving death (e.g., "a tornado
kills three children in an elementary school", "your grandmother dies
in her sleep"). The person was then asked to rate the elements self,
preferred self, and (personal) death on these constructs,
with the number of splits in which both self-elements were
aligned with one construct pole, and death with its contrast, serving
the index of the subjective threat that would be entailed in construing
the death of self as a personal reality. After the TI was
into a standardized measure using frequently occurring constructs, it
validity and reliability were documented in dozens of studies, making
it the best established measure in the entire literature on death
attitudes (Neimeyer, 1994).
The availability of a solid measure of death threat made possible
numerous applications to such topics as the death threat experienced by
intervention workers (Neimeyer & Dingemans, 1980), the link
between death anxiety and the completion of one’s existential goals
& Chapman, 1980), and the personal anxieties about death
by gay and bisexual men living in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic
Neimeyer, Kirchberg, & Moore, 1994). Later research has expanded
this focus to include the threat and discomfort of counselors working
clients presenting with death-related (e.g., grief, AIDS) or
problems (e.g., marital discord, physical handicap) (Kirchberg,
& James, 1998). As hypothesized, counselors reported greater
in responding to the death than non-death situations, a response that
proved to be mediated by the personal death fears of the counselor.
Moreover, the least empathic responses were provided by counselors who
construed death in
fatalistic terms on the Threat Index, suggesting that working with
loss can prove especially challenging for those counselors whose
personal constructions of death leave them vulnerable to such
A. J., Neimeyer, R. A., Kirchberg, T. M., & Moore, M. K.
(1994). Death concern and religious belief among gays and bisexuals of
proximity to AIDS. Omega, 30, 105-120.
T. M., Neimeyer, R. A., & James, R. K. (1998). Beginning
counselors' death concerns and empathic responses to client situations
involving death and grief. Death Studies, 22, 99-120.
S. R., Epting, F. R., & Leitner, L. M. (1974). Personal
constructs, threat, and attitudes toward death. Omega, 5, 299-310.
R. A. (1994b). The Threat Index and related methods. In R. A.
Neimeyer (Ed.), Death anxiety handbook (pp. 61-101). New York:
Taylor & Francis.
R. A., & Chapman, K. M. (1980). Self/ideal discrepancy
and fear of death: the test of an existential hypothesis. Omega,
R. A., & Dingemans, P. (1980). Death orientation in the
suicide intervention worker. Omega, 11, 15-23.
Robert A. Neimeyer