2019 James McKeen Cattell Fellow

George A. Bonanno
Columbia University

George A. Bonanno’s research has dramatically altered the way we think about normal and abnormal responses to loss and trauma.

In the 1990s, scientific research and theory were dominated by the ideas that recovery from loss required a prolonged period of emotional distress and expression — known as “grief work” — and that minimal signs of grief were best understood as unhealthy denial. But using novel combinations of methods and measures, Bonanno consistently demonstrated that most people successfully mitigate the distress of grief in a relatively short period of time. He also demonstrated the crucial role of positive emotions in the recovery process, presaging the positive psychology movement, and helped to differentiate adaptive responses from grief-related pathology.

Pioneering the application of sophisticated data analytic tools such as latent growth mixture modeling to a wide range of traumatic life events, Bonanno showed that outcomes can be captured by a relatively small set of prototypical trajectories, including chronic dysfunction, recovery, delayed reactions, and (most commonly) resilience. As another original and important contribution, he has demonstrated that the use of any given regulatory strategy is not as crucial for adaptation as is the ability to flexibly deploy different strategies to fit individual contexts. He expertly communicates his research to nonspecialist audiences, as demonstrated by his book The Other Side of Sadness.

Bonanno’s groundbreaking work has fostered a robust understanding and appreciation of the natural human capacity for resilience.