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2/3/10

The Evolutionary Origins of Depression


Randolph Nesse, a psychologist and researcher in evolutionary medicine at the University of Michigan believes that evolution of our species is linked to depression. He sees depression as an adaptation to save us from unattainable goals.

"He sees both pain and low mood as warning mechanisms and thinks that, just as understanding chronic pain means first understanding normal pain, so understanding clinical depression means understanding mild depression.

Dr Nesse’s hypothesis is that, as pain stops you doing damaging physical things, so low mood stops you doing damaging mental ones—in particular, pursuing unreachable goals. Pursuing such goals is a waste of energy and resources. Therefore, he argues, there is likely to be an evolved mechanism that identifies certain goals as unattainable and inhibits their pursuit—and he believes that low mood is at least part of that mechanism. "

Some countries have higher rates of depression than others, and Nesse finds correlations to goal-orientation.

"Dr Nesse believes that persistence is a reason for the exceptional level of clinical depression in America—the country that has the highest depression rate in the world. 'Persistence is part of the American way of life,' he says. 'People here are often driven to pursue overly ambitious goals, which then can lead to depression.' He admits that this is still an unproven hypothesis, but it is one worth considering. Depression may turn out to be an inevitable price of living in a dynamic society. More

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