Sunday, February 16, 2014

Is Depression an Adaption?

After reading this article, the idea of depression as an adaption still seems abstract to me. It raises a few questions:

Firstly, do other great apes have depression in the way humans do? We know that in baboon populations, some males are more aggressive than others and form a hierarchical society similar to human society. We know that people on the low rung of the ladder might have higher levels of stress which may lead to depression. Could we then infer that some low-ranking baboons could also have what we call depression? If it really is an adaption, as implied in this article then I would say that the answer to this question would be a 'yes'. However, we know that the symptoms of depression include a lack of motivation--not just to reach for unattainable goals, but also to simply do everyday things. I could be wrong, but I have never seen any evidence of other apes lacking the motivation to do simple everyday tasks.

Nesse also suggested that depression may cause the motivation to "escape" an environment, even through suicide. This alone would argue against the idea that depression is an adaption, since an adaption, by definition, should help an organism survive. Furthermore, I have never heard of other apes committing suicide. Perhaps some would argue that they lack the intelligence to consider the possibility.


  1. I am not entirely sure I agree that depression is an adaption as well. Maybe a different word should be used instead. I would agree with the question stated of great apes having depression the same way we do. I also implied through the reading that the answer would be yes, but I do not see how it could be. I made the same connection with depression causing the motivation to escape an environment. I very much feel that this should argue against the idea of depression being an adaption. The whole concept of adaption is to better ones chances of survival and I do not see how escaping in the form of suicide would be a better chance for survival. In certain cases I am sure an escape would be the thing to do to survive, but not every case. Then again depending on the thought process of the individual it could seem to them as a better chance of survival. Though since we are so close to apes and from what I can tell they do not go around committing suicide or really even trying to escape their environment how could this be an adaption? And really if it truly is an adaption, what is it helping? The lack of motivation seems as well to be something that would hinder survival. One needs motivation to survive, so is the word adaption maybe the wrong one to be using when trying to explain depression? I am a little confused myself as to why the word adaption would be used for the term depression in many ways.

  2. I also agree that depression is complicated and may not be able to be explained simply as an adaptation, but I did find it useful to look at depression from another angle. If depression were simply just an adaptation then it would help us understand why some people have depression. Unfortunately though it seems this idea is not enough since can last a very long time. It seems from Nesse’s argument that having depression as an adaptation would be to discourage people from pursuing a goal or not to fight a hierarchical battle. These would most likely not need to last for long periods of time if the adaptation was successful in convincing not to pursue their goal. I do think Nesse’s conclusion pointed that more research needs to be done in this area as a possible use of depression. Will, I think your questions about apes would be very useful to look at and compare to humans in moving forward with this research. It seems that Nesse sees low mood as more adaptive than depression. I think it’s possible low mood could be an adaptation and that depression is more of a negative outcome that occurs from this adaptation. That explanation would not clear up why people get depression though. Nesse also mentions in his conclusion that there are different types of depression and that some are not related to low mood and could be more of a disease state. It appears that the view from the first chapter of Book of Woes could be applied here, where people need to admit that we don’t have concrete evidence and ideas on everything that encompasses mental illness. I think we should keep trying to understand our minds but we must admit to ourselves that we may not be able to see the whole picture yet and take that into consideration.