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Project to Understand Reactions to Loss

Our NIMH research on bereavement attempts to understand the different patterns of outcomes people experience in response to loss.

Research Study

What does participation in the study involve?

The primary goals of our study are to learn more about the different types of reactions people have to loss over the course of the first several years of bereavement and about the factors that might predict who experiences these different types of reactions and why. We are interested in all types of reactions bereaved people might have but in this study we are especially interested in learning more prolonged grief.

When a bereaved person agrees to participate in our study, we first ask them to fill out a set of questionnaires that give us background information. We then invite participants to visit our offices at Columbia University's Teachers College on two occasions. One of the initial sessions involves an interview and several simple computer tasks. Some parts of the session will be videotaped. Although we ask a number of direct questions, a large part of the interview allows our participants to tell us as best as they can what bereavement is like for them, to describe the kind of relationship they had with the person they have lost, and how they experience different aspects of their lives during bereavement. In asking these questions, we try to give our participants plenty of room to express whatever thoughts and feelings they may have. The simple computer tasks do not require prior knowledge experience with computers. These tasks include viewing pictures and brief film clips. We are asking bereaved persons to complete these tasks because they help us to better understand how each person experiences their loss and what factors might be predictive of prolonged grief.

A second early session involves electrophysical (EEG) recording of brain activity using a neural net. The neural net is something like a large hat and involves wet electrodes. Although these procedures pose no serious risk and are commonly used in both research and medical testing, we go to great lengths to ensure our participants comfort and safety. 

We ask our participants to visit our offices again approximately 14 months into bereavement for a single session that involves similar interview questions and computer tasks.

Finally, we conduct a shorter interview approximately 25 months into bereavement. For this interview, participants have the option of again visiting our offices or conducting the interview over the phone, whichever is more convenient for them.