Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Personality and the Generation of Defeat, Involuntary Subordination, and Depression

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Personality and the Generation of Defeat, Involuntary Subordination, and Depression

Article excerpt

It has long been recognised that life stress, in the form of negative life events, has an impact on mood and may serve as a trigger for depressive episodes (Brown & Harris, 1978; see Paykel, 2003, for a review). A good deal of research has shown that various personality traits are linked to depression because they either generate stressful life events or entail problematic reactions to such events (Blatt, 2008; Zuroff, Mongrain, & Santor, 2004). For example, dependent individuals may be perceived as clingy and needing of reassurance, which could lead to rejection, and when rejection does occur, dependent individuals are more likely to show higher levels of dysphoria than others (Zuroff & Mongrain, 1987). The present study sought to examine the relationship between personality, life events, and mood from an evolutionary perspective.

The Social Rank Theory of Depression

Evolutionary theories of depression and anxiety must contend with the obvious impairment and dysfunction associated with mood disorders. Indeed, the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) explicitly states that in order for an individual to be diagnosed with major depression, there must be significant impairment in functioning. Nesse and Williams (1994) have made the point that physiological states that are experienced as aversive or interfere with functioning may nevertheless be adaptive. They provide the example of vomiting, which is subjectively aversive, yet functions to expel toxins from the body. Another obvious example is pain, which functions to protect individuals from injury or harm. Nettle (2004) has made a persuasive case that the disorder itself may not be adaptive but rather stems from a dysregulation of adaptive mechanisms underlying depression.

Social rank theory, originally proposed by Price (1969, 1972), holds that in contests of status, a yielding mechanism is required or combatants would continue to fight to the point to which one or both parties were injured. Such intense fighting is rare between conspecifics (at least between those that occupy the same social group), and dominance is typically established through ritualized agonistic behaviours, including threat displays or submissive displays. When fighting does occur, it is not often lethal, partly because the yielding mechanism, dubbed the involuntary defeat strategy (IDS; Sloman, 2000), causes the losing individual to withdraw and shut down. The mechanism is said to be involuntary because it is not under conscious control of the loser, even though it has a profound effect on its behaviour. And because the mechanism is involuntary, the winner of a contest can be assured that the loser is not capable of continuing in the struggle (i.e., the loser will not attempt a comeback).

The IDS encompasses emotional, behavioural, and physiological changes. It is typically deactivated once the losing organism has escaped the arena of competition or has accepted its new position. However, when individuals are trapped in the arena or cannot accept defeat, the yielding mechanism becomes prolonged and may manifest as a major depression (Sloman & Price, 1987; Sloman, Price, Gilbert, & Gardner, 1994).

The psychological aspects of the IDS have been dubbed involuntary subordination and were originally defined as a combination of feeling entrapped and unfavorable social comparison (i.e., viewing the self as inferior; Sturman & Mongrain, 2005, 2008b). Other researchers have found that entrapment and defeat load on a common factor, and the importance of these variables has been demonstrated in relation to depression and suicide (Taylor, Gooding, Wood, & Tarrier, 2011; Taylor, Wood, Gooding, Johnson, & Tarrier, 2009). A recent study found that defeat, entrapment, poor social comparison, and submission load on a common factor, and involuntary subordination has now been operationalized to include all of these variables (Sturman, 2011). …

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