In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Resilience

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Books
  • Collected Volumes
  • Conceptual Considerations in Resilience Research
  • Post-Traumatic Growth and Benefit Finding
  • Measuring Resiliency and Post-Traumatic Growth
  • Resilience to Chronic Stressors of Development
  • Family Resilience
  • Resilience-Building Interventions

Psychology Resilience
Anthony Mancini
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0050


Resilience is the capacity to maintain stable levels of functioning, as well as positive emotions and generative experiences, following or under conditions of significant adversity. Resilience researchers have largely focused on two broad types of adversity: (1) acute and time-limited events that are outside the range of ordinary experience, such as physical or sexual assault, traumatic injury, disease, natural disaster, mass casualty events, war, and interpersonal loss; and (2) chronic enduring stressors, usually experienced in childhood, such as neglect, socioeconomic disadvantage, oppressive political conditions, and physical or mental abuse. Although these two types of adversity necessarily entail different methods and theoretical frameworks, research findings from both literatures have converged on a common conclusion: resilience is common, even under the most extreme adversity. The empirical study of psychological resilience as such is a relatively recent phenomenon—until about thirty-five years ago it drew almost no serious scientific attention. Recently, however, the resilience literature has burgeoned at an exceptional rate. Unfortunately, the study of resilience has been plagued by definitional controversies and methodologically uninformative research. One important cleavage concerns the way resilience is defined and measured. A substantial body of research defines resilience as a personality construct; another literature insists that resilience is defined as an outcome (or process) in response to the experience of significant adversity. Although both approaches have produced relevant and informative research, it is worth noting that, in sheer volume, most resilience research is now devoted to the personality-as-resilience approach. Because these studies often do not study reactions to a marker event, rely exclusively on self-report scales, and employ cross-sectional designs, they are usually (but not always) of inferior methodological quality. Consistent with the suggestions of a number of scholars, this latter approach is described here as “resiliency,” not resilience. Although this bibliography includes high-quality studies that define resilience as a personality construct, most of the research and scholarship listed here operationally defines resilience as an outcome or process that unfolds following acute adversity or during chronic forms of adversity.

General Overviews

There are a number of high-quality, widely cited reviews of the resilience literature that are essential first stops for interested researchers. Each of these works documents the prevalence of resilience, either to acute stressors and natural disasters (in the case of Bonanno 2004 and Bonanno, et al. 2010) or to chronic enduring stressors of childhood (in the case of Rutter 1987; Luthar, et al. 2000; and Masten 2001), and also addresses conceptual and methodological issues in the study of resilience.

  • Bonanno, George A. 2004. Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events? American Psychologist 59.1: 20–28.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.59.1.20

    One of the most frequently cited papers on resilience following acute adversity; the author conceptualizes resilience as a normal and common response to potential trauma that is heterogeneous and can be arrived at through different means. Available online.

  • Bonanno, George A., Chris R. Brewin, Krzysztof Kaniasty, and Annette M. La Greca. 2010. Weighing the costs of disaster: Consequences, risks, and resilience in individuals, families, and communities. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 11.1: 1–49.

    DOI: 10.1177/1529100610387086

    An authoritative monograph on the state of knowledge of how people cope with disaster.

  • Luthar, Suniya S., Dante Cicchetti, and Bronwyn Becker. 2000. The construct of resilience: A critical evaluation and guidelines for future work. Child Development 71.3: 543–562.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-8624.00164

    A comprehensive overview and critical evaluation of the conceptual underpinnings of resilience in the context of significant developmental challenges of childhood, such as parental neglect, abuse, mental illness, and corrosive social environments.

  • Masten, Ann S. 2001. Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American Psychologist 56.3: 227–238.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.56.3.227

    A widely cited review of the children’s literature on resilience, this article posits resilience among children at risk as common because it arises from a “normative function of human adaptational systems.” In the absence of threats to these systems, it is argued, resilience should be the rule rather than the exception.

  • Rutter, Michael. 1987. Psychosocial resilience and protective mechanisms. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 57.3: 316–331.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.1987.tb03541.x

    A foundational review that is both a cogent critique of earlier research on childhood disadvantage and a clear statement of why resilience among children at risk should be the modal response even when significant adversity is present.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.