British and Pakistani children's understanding of death: Cultural and developmental influences

Georgia Panagiotaki, Gavin Nobes, Aisha Ashraf, Herjit Aubby

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This study explored British and Pakistani 4- to 7-year-olds’ (N = 188 understanding of death. The aim was to examine possible influences on the acquisition of the subcomponents of the death concept by investigating how they are understood by children of different ages and cultural and religious backgrounds. Three groups of children were compared: White British and British Muslim living in London, and Pakistani Muslim living in rural Pakistan. In line with previous research (Slaughter, 2005, Aust. Psychol., 40(3), 179), irreversibility of death was one of the first subcomponents to be acquired, while causality was the last. The two groups of British children shared many similarities in their understanding of inevitability, applicability, irreversibility, and cessation. Pakistani Muslim children understood irreversibility earlier than did children in both British groups. In all three cultural groups, children’s responses demonstrated very limited understanding of causality. Our findings support the view that aspects of a mature understanding of death develop between the ages of 4 and 7 years and that the process of understanding death as a biological event is, to a great extent, universal. They also suggest that aspects of children’s reasoning are influenced by culturally specific experiences, particularly those arising from living in rural versus urban settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-44
Number of pages14
JournalBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date26 Sep 2014
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015


  • understanding of death
  • children
  • culture

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