Evolution and depression: issues and implications

Psychol Med. 2006 Mar;36(3):287-97. doi: 10.1017/S0033291705006112. Epub 2005 Oct 20.


Depression is well recognized to be rooted in the down-regulation of positive affect systems. This paper reviews some of the social and non-social theories that seek to explain the potential adaptive advantages of being able to tone down positive affect, and how dysfunctions in such affect control can occur in some contexts. Common to most evolutionary theories of depression is the view that loss of control over aversive events and/or major resources/rewards exert downward pressure on positive affect. Social theories, however, suggest that it is loss of control over the social environment that is particularly depressogenic. Two evolutionary theories (the attachment-loss, and the defeat-loss theories) are briefly reviewed and their interaction considered. It is suggested that phenotypes for toning down positive affect, in the face of loss of control, may become more severe in the context of socially hostile, unsupportive and/or excessively competitive environments. The paper briefly considers how human competencies for self-evaluation in relation to others, rumination, self-criticism, and modern social contexts can accentuate dysfunctional expressions of affect regulation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Biological Evolution
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Object Attachment
  • Psychological Theory
  • Social Behavior