What Causes Grief to Endure? Part 1: Your Turn

There are two sets of “emotions” the understanding of which are most helpful to understanding all perturbant emotions: grief and romantic love. To understand these two requires answering several questions about them. One of the questions is: what causes grief to endure?

Rather than immediately provide you “my” answer to this question (or more precisely a “CogXAff” answer to this question), I will first let you think about it, for reasons discussed in my previous post

As a bit of backing for my claim that grief and romantic love are fruitful emotions to understand, see Perturbance: Unifying Research on Emotion, Intrusive Mentation and Other Psychological Phenomena with AI | Simon Fraser University Summit, which is an article I lead-authored for an AISB workshop on AI models of emotion. That article also provides a clue as to what perturbance is, given that I qualified my question in terms of perturbant emotions. (he concept of perturbance was rebranded by Sloman as tertiary emotion. I am bringing back the term perturbance and updating the concept and theory. The same co-authors and I are writing a new article based on that paper.

The title question of this blog post also requires that one answer the question, “what is grief?” Ian Wright, Aaron Sloman and I provided an answer to this question in Towards a design-based analysis of emotional episodes. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 3(2), 101–126..

Answering such questions provides deep insight into the human mind. (I will later formally announce a new book project that has been simmering in my mind for several years. It is nominally an emotion, though as its subtitle shows, it pivots into the entire mind.)


  • 2018-11-05 fixed a typo “on emotions” → “an emotion”.

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Luc P. Beaudoin

Head of CogZest. Author of Cognitive Productivity books. Co-founder of CogSci Apps Corp. Adjunct Professor of Education, Simon Fraser University. Why, Where, and What I Write. See About Me for more information.

5 thoughts on “What Causes Grief to Endure? Part 1: Your Turn”

  1. There’s a large literature on grief and bereavement written by and for counselors. I have been revisiting this literature recently; it has grown considerably since the last time I looked at it. I imagine that the answer to your title question would change depending on the characteristics of the particular case: for example, nontraumatic versus traumatic bereavement. I consider Thomas Attig’s book How We Grieve: Relearning the World (1996) to be a classic on the subject. The book series “Series in Death, Dying, and Bereavement” published by Routledge has a number of good volumes. Some other textbooks on the subject have been published recently.

  2. Thanks, Nathan. One noteworthy fact is that emotion psychologists don’t tend to consider grief as an emotion, because it’s an extended process. Emotion theories (e.g., Scherer’s Componential Process Model of Emotions) can’t cope with extended affective states, like perturbance and limerence. They would limit grief-as-emotion to intense episodes of sorrow.

  3. I am somewhat familiar with writings by emotion psychologists, although I am more familiar with the clinical literature (writings by counselors/therapists on their work with clients) than with the theoretical literature. I had never heard of “perturbance”, and when I searched for it on Google Scholar, I can see why: the term appears to be used only by certain theorists (especially you and your colleagues) and not by prominent clinicians. Clinicians are certainly all too familiar with the phenomenon, but they don’t use that word. I quickly glanced at the references you cited in your 1996 paper that you mentioned in the post, and you didn’t cite much of the clinical literature (which has, of course, grown considerably since 1996). You may want to engage more with the clinical literature in your future work, both the literature on grief and bereavement that I mentioned above as well as the large literature on other related issues such as depression (e.g., the 2016 book Treating Depression edited by Wells & Fisher) as well as recent general models of therapy (e.g., the 2012 book Unlocking the Emotional Brain by Ecker et al. and the 2015 book Working with Emotion in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy edited by Thoma & McKay).

  4. Thanks for all the pointers, Nathan.

    > (e.g., the 2016 book Treating Depression edited by Wells & Fisher)

    Coincidentally, Adrian Wells published Attention and Emotion the year my Ph.D. thesis was published (1994). He or his co-author were in Birmingham, UK at the same time, but our paths didn’t cross. (I was at U of B, and I think one of them was at the other university). It’s a coincidence because we both developed tri-level information processing architectures. There’s a reference to his work in [_Cognitive Productivity: Using Knowledge to Become Profoundly Effective_](https://leanpub.com/cognitiveproductivity/). I have also read some of his papers but not his 2016 book.

    His 1994 book (with Gerald Mathews) even had AI references in it, which was very unusual for a clinical book. My thesis work was much more AI-based than his, however. I developed simulations of theories.

    > Clinicians are certainly all too familiar with the phenomenon, but they don’t use that word.

    They are no doubt familiar with some aspects of the phenomenon. But perturbance is not just a phenomenon, meaning it is not a purely empirical or experiential concept. It’s a computational/ architecture-based one. To “get” the concept requires grasping the theory behind it. Compare: one can be very familiar with intuitive gravity, but not know Newton’s laws. And to understand the technical concept of force, one has to understand the concepts to which it is related, the equations. I’m *not* saying that they *cannot understand it*. It’s just that without knowing the theory, one cannot know be very familiar with the concept. And as you pointed out, the theory hasn’t had much uptake yet, though it is known in AI of affect. That’s partly because we didn’t engage in the right way with empirical psychology (not that we didn’t try). I also left the field of “emotion” a few years after introducing the term _perturbance_.

    The concept itself comes from Artificial Intelligence. The concept was first proposed by Aaron Sloman (1981). (I coined the term in 1992). One can say that the concept has its roots in Herbert Simon’s 1967 paper (MOTIVATIONAL AND EMOTIONAL CONTROLS OF COGNITION, 1967), though Sloman hadn’t read the paper when he first developed the idea. Simon’s paper is highly cited. Sloman is no longer active in this field.

    I have been updating the theory and the concept, connecting them better with empirical psychology. The concept of perturbance will hopefully get a lot of empirical attention after the new papers we are writing, and with collaborations we are forming.

    The theory is described here: https://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/projects/cogaff/Wright_Sloman_Beaudoin_grief.html , and there’s http://summit.sfu.ca/item/16776 . And http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/projects/cogaff/Luc.Beaudoin_thesis.pdf

    > more with the clinical literature in your future work

    Our research programme is _highly_ interdisciplinary –not just multi-disciplinary. I am not a clinician, but I do research on insomnia, and I read plenty of clinical literature as it is a clinical phenomenon. I’m also interested in other clinical literatures. In general, I develop cognitive tools (a) to help clinicians and (b) to assist in self-help. (Compare the final chapters of [_Cognitive Productivity: Using Knowledge to Become Profoundly Effective_](https://leanpub.com/cognitiveproductivity/), which is about how acceptance and commitment therapists can benefit from computational psychology.

    Also, I work with clinicians (e.g., my co-authors). For example:

    Beaudoin, L. P. (2014, July). A design-based approach to sleep-onset and insomnia: super-somnolent mentation, the cognitive shuffle and serial diverse imagining. Paper presented at the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society workshop on “Computational Modeling of Cognition-Emotion Interactions: Relevance to Mechanisms of Affective Disorders and Therapeutic Action”, Québec, Canada.

    I have long been interested in clinical phenomena. For instance, in my Ph.D. thesis I pointed to the relevance of perturbance to understanding OCD. We frequently suggest to clinicians that they should learn about AI. It is difficult to think deeply about the human mind, which is a _computational system_ , without having experience programming complex AI systems, and being familiar with [virtual machines.](https://cogzest.com/2018/03/understanding-ourselves-with-virtual-machine-concepts/).

    I don’t think Wells continued in AI. But his psychological thinking was deeply influenced by it, which is a testament to the relevance of AI for clinical psychology.

    I will soon write Part 2 of this post, which will sketch my answer to the question I raised. My answer extends the answer given in https://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/projects/cogaff/Wright_Sloman_Beaudoin_grief.html

  5. Luc, many thanks for the historical explanation. I am a fan of Adrian Wells’s work, and since you point out its similarity to your work, it’s no surprise that I’m interested in your work too. Back in July 2015 I was impressed by the preview that I found of your book Cognitive Productivity (which is what led me to occasionally watch your blog), but I didn’t take time to delve into the whole work; I stayed at the “assessment” level of the work, as you might say (assessed caliber: high). I hadn’t noticed the last chapters relating to clinical psychology. Now I may be intrigued enough to delve into it. It can be challenging to integrate different theories and models of therapy. (And some therapists aren’t very interested; they seem to exhibit what Walter Mischel called the toothbrush problem: they “treat other peoples’ theories like toothbrushes—no self-respecting person wants to use anyone else’s.”) As you may know, there is at least one journal dedicated to the task of integration: the Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, one of my favorite regular reads (though I don’t read all the articles).

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