Background: The social rank theory of psychopathology suggests that with the evolution of social hierarchies various psychobiological mechanisms became attuned to the success or failure in conflict situations. Specifically, subordinates and those who have lost status are at greater risk of pathology than winners and those of higher status. In this theory concepts of defeat and entrapment are seen to be of special relevance to the study of depression. We outline the role of defeat and entrapment within the social rank theory of depression.
Methods: New self-report measures of entrapment and defeat were developed and used to test predictions of the social rank theory of depression. Both a sample of students and depressed patients were assessed with these new scales and other social rank measures (e.g. social comparison and submissive behaviour).
Results: The entrapment and defeat measures were found to have good psychometric properties and significantly correlated with depression. They were also strongly associated with other rank variables. Defeat maintained a strong association with depression even after controlling for hopelessness (r = 0.62), whereas the relationship between hopelessness and depression was substantially reduced when controlling for defeat. Entrapment and defeat added substantially to the explained variance of depression after controlling for the other social rank variables.
Conclusions: Defeat and entrapment appear to be promising variables for the study of depression. These variables may also help to develop linkages between human and animal models of psychopathology.