2019 James McKeen Cattell Fellow
George A. Bonanno
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.