Grief: A Brief History of Research on How Body, Mind, and Brain Adapt

Psychosom Med. 2019 Oct;81(8):731-738. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000717.


Objective: Using an integrative view of psychology, neuroscience, immunology, and psychophysiology, the present review of literature curates the findings that have had an impact on the field of bereavement research and shaped its development.

Methods: Beginning with pivotal systematic descriptions of medical and psychological responses to the death of a loved one by Lindemann in the mid-1940s, this selective review integrates findings in bereavement research from studies that investigate medical outcomes after loss, their psychological predictors, and biopsychosocial mechanisms.

Results: Morbidity and mortality after the death of a loved one have long been a topic of research. Early researchers characterized somatic and psychological symptoms and studied immune cell changes in bereaved samples. More recent research has repeatedly demonstrated increased rates of morbidity and mortality in bereaved samples, as compared with married controls, in large epidemiological studies. Recent developments also include the development of criteria for prolonged grief disorder (also termed complicated grief). Newer methods, including neuroimaging, have observed that the greatest impact of the death of a loved one is in those who have the most severe psychological grief reactions. Research addressing the mechanisms tying bereavement to medical outcomes is relatively scarce, but differences in rumination, in inflammation, and in cortisol dysregulation between those who adapt well and those who do not have been offered with some evidence.

Conclusions: Recommendations to propel the field forward include longitudinal studies to understand differences between acute reactions and later adaptation, comparing samples with grief disorders from those with more typical responses, and integrating responses in brain, mind, and body.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Attitude to Death
  • Bereavement
  • Biomarkers
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Chronic Disease / psychology
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Grief*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Morbidity
  • Mortality
  • Neuroimmunomodulation
  • Psychophysiology
  • Psychosomatic Medicine / history*
  • Research / history
  • Risk
  • Social Determinants of Health


  • Biomarkers