The Nature of Grief: The Evolution and Psychology of Reactions to Loss

The Nature of Grief: The Evolution and Psychology of Reactions to Loss

The Nature of Grief: The Evolution and Psychology of Reactions to Loss

The Nature of Grief: The Evolution and Psychology of Reactions to Loss


The Nature of Grief is a provocative new study on the evolution of grief. Most literature on the topic regards grief either as a psychiatric disorder or illness to be cured. In contrast to this, John Archer shows that grief is a natrual reaction to losses of many sorts, even to the death of a pet, and he proves this by bringing together material from evolutionary psychology, ethology and experimental psychology.This innovative new work will be required reading for developmental and clinical psychologists and all those in the caring professions.


This book draws upon evolutionary psychology, ethology and psychology to consider grief from two perspectives: first as a process which shares certain common features, and second as something that is variable under different circumstances.

The commonality of grief reactions among different people and under different circumstances can be understood in terms of John Bowlby's attachment theory, which was inspired by ethological research. Bowlby's evolutionary speculations, and those of Colin Murray Parkes, can now be extended to link up with the modern Darwinian thinking that underpins evolutionary psychology. To complement the attachment and evolutionary perspectives, which provide a broad framework for the origins and general form of grief, I have added two other features. The first is a detailed general description of what grief entails, thus following Niko Tinbergen's view that the first step in understanding a phenomenon is to have an adequate description of it. I have also sought to understand the mental and emotional processes involved in the process of grief by drawing upon psychological research. By doing so, it is possible to evaluate many common beliefs that have grown up from outside the realms of empirical research, and have been maintained in writings on grief from Freud to the present day.

This book also examines variations in grief, and in doing so is guided by evolutionary psychology and attachment theory. Theories based on the process of natural selection can be used to predict variations in the intensity of grief following the loss of different categories of relationship. The main variables considered are kinship, age and sex. Attachment theory often makes parallel predictions, and in addition indicates that different styles of relating to others may predict different forms of grieving.

This consideration of individual differences guided by Darwinian thinking and by attachment theory makes it possible to integrate a large amount of research which would otherwise have been unrelated to theory. To keep the book to a manageable length, it was not possible to consider all of the many influences on the nature and course of grief. There are, therefore, no separate treatments of traumatic grief, or the impact of forewarning, or the influence of sociocultural variables such as mourning rituals, social support, and

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