A simple theory of gene-culture coevolution, with reference to immigration

by on December 10, 2017 at 12:21 am in Medicine, Philosophy, Political Science, Science | Permalink

Are there genetic vulnerabilities for depression across cultures?

Genetic vulnerability differs substantially from country to country. East Asian contexts, for example, show a high prevalence of genes associated with depression. Yet, despite these vulnerabilities, they develop fewer cases of the disorder. One hypothesis is that genetic vulnerabilities have co-evolved with culture, creating extra protective factors (in this case, extra interdependence). However, when these people leave their cultural contexts, they have a higher risk of developing depression.

That is an interview with Yulia Chentsova-Dutton, associate professor of psychology at Georgetown, and a researcher in this area.  You can imagine further applications of this mechanism.  The interview has other interesting points, for instance:

What is the role of emotion regulation?

Emotion regulation is increasingly becoming understood as a core factor in all affective disorders. In western societies, we don’t see enough adaptive strategies like reappraisal: learning to tell yourself a different story that would eventually lead to different emotions. There is also not enough social regulation of emotion, which occurs by sharing our emotions with others. Research shows that cultures can facilitate functional regulation strategies. For example, Igor Grossmann’s work shows that Russians make rumination (generally considered a dysfunctional strategy) more functional by encouraging people to ruminate about the self from another person’s perspective, making rumination almost reappraisal-like in its quality.

Do read the whole thing.

1 clockwork_prior December 10, 2017 at 1:04 am

‘However, when these people leave their cultural contexts, they have a higher risk of developing depression.’

Which is even more striking when it comes to schizophrenia, however. Particularly in the way different cultures define and treat it, for example – http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/01/16/listen-to-the-voices-in-your-head/

Or here, detailing the apparent cultural differences in the way ‘voices’ are heard – https://news.stanford.edu/2014/07/16/voices-culture-luhrmann-071614/

‘The striking difference was that while many of the African and Indian subjects registered predominantly positive experiences with their voices, not one American did. Rather, the U.S. subjects were more likely to report experiences as violent and hateful – and evidence of a sick condition.

The Americans experienced voices as bombardment and as symptoms of a brain disease caused by genes or trauma.

One participant described the voices as “like torturing people, to take their eye out with a fork, or cut someone’s head and drink their blood, really nasty stuff.” Other Americans (five of them) even spoke of their voices as a call to battle or war – “‘the warfare of everyone just yelling.’”

Moreover, the Americans mostly did not report that they knew who spoke to them and they seemed to have 
less personal relationships with their voices, according to Luhrmann.

Among the Indians in Chennai, more than half (11) heard voices of kin or family members commanding them to do tasks. “They talk as if elder people advising younger people,” one subject said. That contrasts to the Americans, only two of whom heard family members. Also, the Indians heard fewer threatening voices than the Americans – several heard the voices as playful, as manifesting spirits or magic, and even as entertaining. Finally, not as many of them described the voices in terms of a medical or psychiatric problem, as all of the Americans did.

In Accra, Ghana, where the culture accepts that disembodied spirits can talk, few subjects described voices in brain disease terms. When people talked about their voices, 10 of them called the experience predominantly positive; 16 of them reported hearing God audibly. “‘Mostly, the voices are good,’” one participant remarked.’

2 TGGP December 10, 2017 at 9:31 am

Africans & Indians are reporting experiences akin to what Julian Jaynes described in The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind:

3 ChrisA December 10, 2017 at 1:41 am

The success of Cognitive Therapy for assisting in depression suggests to me that depression is related to our social bonding mechanisms, which must be largely genetic (i.e. it is not the CBT itself that is working it is the joint problem solving with an authority figure to lead it). A potential hypothesis is that for many ancient societies there was an optimum level of social interaction, which depression is the regulator of. Our modern societies don’t necessarily conform to this social interaction system, leading to over regulation by the module in our brains.

4 clockwork_prior December 10, 2017 at 2:13 am

‘The success of Cognitive Therapy for assisting in depression suggests to me that depression is related to our social bonding mechanisms’

Other proponents of CBT have a quite different framework, one where no authority figure is required at all, being a therapy (strategy) directly related to recognizing cognitive strategies/patterns and changing them.

As can be seen here – https://www.online-therapy.com/cbt – ‘Studies show that online CBT is just as effective as traditional face-to-face therapy*. All of our programs are based on CBT and provide you with the information, tools and guidance you need to overcome your problems.’ Of course, as with anything involving the therapy profession, you are welcome to question it as you please, and whether you consider online interaction to represent an authority figure is certainly debatable.

5 M December 10, 2017 at 9:02 am

Interesting idea…

6 So Much For Subtlety December 10, 2017 at 3:24 am

Genetic vulnerability differs substantially from country to country. East Asian contexts, for example, show a high prevalence of genes associated with depression. Yet, despite these vulnerabilities, they develop fewer cases of the disorder.

That is not my experience of East Asians and depression. I would think that it is a safe rule of thumb that any East Asian teen is now, or has been, or shortly will be, depressed. Maybe not quite all of them but pretty much so.

It is not that they develop fewer cases, it is that they do not complain about it and even if they do, doctors do not diagnose it as such. They come to the West and everyone encourages them to complain. They get diagnosed more.

7 Kris December 10, 2017 at 7:50 am

It is not that they develop fewer cases, it is that they do not complain about it and even if they do, doctors do not diagnose it as such. They come to the West and everyone encourages them to complain. They get diagnosed more.

I’m sure this is part of the story, but it may also be that depression symptoms manifest themselves at a higher rate in the atomized individualistic societies of the West.

8 M December 10, 2017 at 8:56 am

There’s a problem here though that different cultural contexts tend to see inaction and calming emotions as a signal of depression, where the value of both action against inaction and excitement against calm is different between cultures.

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-09-action-inaction-cultural-values-common-east.html“People in East Asian countries seem to strike the best balance between liking action and inaction, whereas someone from the Mediterranean area of the world are far less likely to have achieved the same balance.”

https://bingschool.stanford.edu/news/distinguished-lecture-how-does-culture-shape-our-feelings“Both European-Americans and East Asians valued positive emotional states, but European-Americans largely preferred high arousal positive states like excitement, elation and euphoria while East Asians largely reported a preference for low arousal positive states like peace, relaxation and calm. Asian-Americans fell somewhere in between. “Americans have to say they’re doing GREAT!” Tsai points out, “If you are only fine, people think you’re depressed. You have to be very excited about your life.” “

https://news.stanford.edu/2015/07/02/emotions-chinese-americans-070215/“European Americans prefer positive feelings over negative ones while Chinese tend to experience a balance between the two”

9 Adrian Ratnapala December 10, 2017 at 2:46 pm

This sounds less like a difference between European and east Asian backgrounds than a difference between European Americans and everyone else.

And the interpretation of most European Europeans would be that it is just Americans talking BS.

10 M December 11, 2017 at 6:10 am

USA and England overlap on the Inaction:Action measure, many Europeans were more extreme than the US, and no Europeans (surveyed) were as far to the Inaction:Action balance pole as Japan, HK, China.

(Cross culturally, the Lewis model placed Russians and Eastern Europeans as having a similar high activity impulsive management style to Latin cultures: https://www.crossculture.com/latest-news/the-lewis-model-dimensions-of-behaviour/ So I would not be surprised if they were more towards the high Action pole than the USA,)

The other measures don’t have cross country comparisons, so it’s not so possible for me to say whether Russians, for example, have a cultural preference for positive high arousal excitement or positive low arousal calming states.

11 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ December 10, 2017 at 8:21 am

A reasonable theory, but due for a great sea change. For the young it is about the apps, and researchers are readying bots to supply ‘positive interaction.’


12 rayward December 10, 2017 at 8:37 am

I have seen ads on television recently for therapists who one talks to only by telephone, and one pays a weekly fee for the privilege. One must be dysfunctional to fall for that scheme. The ads present the dysfunctional sucker as happy and smiling because, as she testifies, her therapist understands her. I have also seen similar ads for “readers” who, for a fee, will provide the dysfunctional sucker with a “reading” of the sucker’s future. The ads present the dysfunctional sucker as happy and smiling, the “reader” no doubt having provided the sucker with a “reading” of prosperous days ahead. I’m not sure which is worse, the therapist or the “reader”. I suppose the alternative for the suckers would be to watch Joel Osteen on television, who informs the suckers that God wants them to be rich, but they must send a donation to Osteen so he can let God know who they are. These people aren’t dysfunctional, they are crazy.

13 TGGP December 10, 2017 at 9:37 am

My understanding is that many mental disorders are “iatrogenic”: other cultures rarely experience them until exposed to western medicine. This would also fit with reports of college students being less mentally healthy (confirmed by raised rates of suicide) amidst increased investment in mental health treatment.

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