'Culture of we' buffers genetic tendency to depression

Oct 27, 2009

A genetic tendency to depression is much less likely to be realized in a culture centered on collectivistic rather than individualistic values, according to a new Northwestern University study.

In other words, a genetic vulnerability to depression is much more likely to be realized in a Western culture than an East Asian culture that is more about we than me-me-me.

The study coming out of the growing field of cultural neuroscience takes a global look at mental health across social groups and nations.

Depression, research overwhelmingly shows, results from genes, environment and the interplay between the two. One of the most profound ways that people across cultural groups differ markedly, cultural psychology demonstrates, is in how they think of themselves.

"People from highly individualistic cultures like the United States and Western Europe are more likely to value uniqueness over harmony, expression over agreement, and to define themselves as unique or different from the group," said Joan Chiao, the lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.

In contrast, people from collectivist cultures are more likely to value social harmony over individuality. "Relative to people in an individualistic culture, they are more likely to endorse behaviors that increase group cohesion and interdependence," Chiao said.

Collectivist cultures may give individuals who are genetically susceptible to depression a tacit or explicit expectation of social support. "Such support seems to buffer vulnerable individuals from the environmental risks or stressors that serve as triggers to depressive episodes," Chiao said.

The study by Chiao and Northwestern graduate student Katherine Blizinsky, "Culture-gene coevolution of individualism-collectivism and the serotonin transporter gene," will be published online in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

The study compared genetic frequency information and cultural value data across 29 countries (major European countries as well as South Africa, Eastern Europe, South Asia, East Asia and South America). The (STG) that the researchers studied has two variants - a short allele and a long allele. In Western populations, the short allele leads to a phenotype of major depressive episodes when people who carry it experience multiple life stressors.

Previous research shows that nations in the East Asian region have a disproportionate number of short allele carriers, and the Northwestern researchers replicated that finding. They also replicated cultural psychology research demonstrating that nations within East Asia are typically more collectivistic.

What surprised them was the robust association they found between the degree of collectiveness of a particular nation and the degree to which a disproportionate number of people carried the short allele of the STG. Collectivistic nations were found to have significantly more individuals who carry the short allele of the STG. Even more remarkably, they found, collectivistic nations, such as East Asia, where nearly 80 percent of the population is genetically susceptible to depression, the actual prevalence of depression is significantly lower than in individualistic nations, such as the United States and Western Europe.

This research strongly suggests that medical doctors need to work with basic scientists to better understand the complex dance that biology and culture play in both mitigating and causing mood disorders, such as depression, Chiao concluded. These research findings suggest that culture-based treatments may be equally if not more effective at reducing the risk for depression. Medical doctors who embrace scientific findings of global health trends and human cultures may gain invaluable insights about how our genetic heritage and cultural environments affect human behavior.

"We need to move away from quick and dirty methods of treatment for ," she said, "especially for those genetically susceptible to developing mental illnesses."

Source: Northwestern University (news : web)

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User comments : 14

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Sean_W
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 28, 2009
Stalin was right. Just a few hundred million dead and everyone can be happy. Mao was ahead of his time. Hitler was a visionary. Islam holds the rights of the religion and its community above those of the individual.

As someone who has experienced chronic depression I demand that we all embrace a socialist/fascist/theocratic model so that I can finally be happy. You will all be happy too (if you know what's good for you). Together we can make it happen whether we realize that we want it or not.
bblb
3.8 / 5 (4) Oct 28, 2009
Also, Asian cultures were collectivist long before the invention of communism or fascism, so do some reading and take a history lesson before spouting your drivel.
spogg
2.8 / 5 (10) Oct 28, 2009
Yeah? Well why does South Korea (an exceedingly collectivist culture) have one of the highest--if not the THE highest--suicide rates in the world? Hmm?

Many have suggested that social/collective pressure to succeed in education/career etc. is to blame, so wouldn't that mean that the collectivist culture of South Korea is actually driving the high suicide rate?

Dumb article.
Velanarris
2.8 / 5 (5) Oct 28, 2009
Same with Switzerland. One of the highest world suicide rates and it's a western collectivist society.

If you're looking for a particular trend, you'll always find it. It you're looking for any trend, you'll typically find truth.
Sean_W
2.3 / 5 (6) Oct 28, 2009
Also, Asian cultures were collectivist long before the invention of communism or fascism, so do some reading and take a history lesson before spouting your drivel.


Who exactly says they weren't? Did you actually read my comment before claiming that I was ignorant of history or was that just a spur of the moment random slander?

Perhaps I should take a history lesson about how the wonderous collectivism of Asian culture turned their early mastery of printing into a state technology or how it collectively forced nations like China and Japan to forego trade and exploration because the collective didn't want it which is why these formerly advanced societies slipped well behind Europeans. So yes, collectivism existed in Asia (and all cultures) before being brought to its logical conclusion by Marx, Hitler, Stalin and Mao. That doesn't make it a good thing. But I certainly encourage the world to give it one more try. Maybe this time we'll only have a few hundred million dead.
Otto1882
3.2 / 5 (6) Oct 28, 2009
Leave it up to the American posters to dumb everything down into offensive and ridiculously simplistic explanations with their unsupported and absurd claims. All of you trying to draw a correlation between 'collectivism' and suicide are totally off-base. You think-alike predictable so-called individualists are actually anything but individualists. I guess one's own perception trumps all reality. Please explain to me then why Americans use the most anti-depressants? The World Health Organization predicts mental illness will be one of the number one disabilities in the US. The great nation of individualsts has a mighty high death count as well... oh but I guess Iraqis, Afghanis, Germans, Japanese, Vietnamese etc. don't count
ontheinternets
not rated yet Oct 28, 2009
I lived in China for a few years. I witnessed surprisingly drastic episodes that people had in difficult situations (most often, in relationship breakups). On several occasions, Chinese acquaintances responded to difficult situations by taking a bunch of sleeping pills, threatening to jump on buildings, and whatnot. To my shock, people responded to this not by deriding them or calling them weak or selfish, but by coming to them and staying by their side for some time. They accepted their losses in time, and bounced back fine in what seemed like relatively short time. Reflecting on this caused me to ask some difficult questions about my home country vs China. The results here do not come as a surprise to me since I have often since specifically wondered if this might be the case (both because they behaved so drastically, and that they were accepted and turned out fine).
ontheinternets
5 / 5 (1) Oct 28, 2009
To explain a bit more specifically.. in breakup situation, I witnessed that the people who instigate the breakup sometimes go back to the jilted one (even if this means delaying a new relationship) for a month or two when the grief is expressed. Some people feel responsible for the hurt they helped cause and see this much as a responsibility. Eventually, once things have calmed down, they accept the reality and move on. Or they stay together afterall (it happens).
otto1923
not rated yet Oct 28, 2009
chronic depression
ridiculously simplistic
I think excess bile is a symptom of depression or at least loneliness. Could it be that depression is not always the disease its made out to be, or at least its treatable with fellowship as often as with drugs? Companionship is what we human gregarians are designed for. Western society is designed to disrupt relationships and force people apart (singles consume more than couples and reproduce less). Just 'cause fascism's bad dont mean what we got is good, or best.

Americans use the most antidepressants because insurance pays for them, and because we like them.
otto1923
not rated yet Oct 28, 2009
"Hanging on in quiet desperation is the english way. The time is gone, the song is over, thought Id something more to say ..." Possibly 2nd gen depression is an epigenetic expression? Lonely mothers bear depressed children? Hey- I'm not blaming anybody, just the culture that divides us of necessity- Put a little gratitude in your attitude.
otto1923
not rated yet Oct 28, 2009
Hey- culture affects gene expression- I'm on to something;
http://www.physor...032.html
fuzz54
5 / 5 (1) Oct 29, 2009
Same with Switzerland. One of the highest world suicide rates and it's a western collectivist society.

If you're looking for a particular trend, you'll always find it. It you're looking for any trend, you'll typically find truth.

Suicide is not necessarily correlated linearly to depression. In America suicide is not socially accepted. That isn't the case in all other countries. You have to look at depression statistics based on an accepted metric like HAMD, not suicide rates.
Rohitasch
1.3 / 5 (3) Nov 01, 2009
Individualistic people are more prone to depression! Small price to pay and definitely worth it, considering all the other stuff that one has to carry in a collectivistic society!
Velanarris
not rated yet Nov 12, 2009
Leave it up to the American posters to dumb everything down into offensive and ridiculously simplistic explanations with their unsupported and absurd claims. All of you trying to draw a correlation between 'collectivism' and suicide are totally off-base. You think-alike predictable so-called individualists are actually anything but individualists. I guess one's own perception trumps all reality. Please explain to me then why Americans use the most anti-depressants? The World Health Organization predicts mental illness will be one of the number one disabilities in the US. The great nation of individualsts has a mighty high death count as well... oh but I guess Iraqis, Afghanis, Germans, Japanese, Vietnamese etc. don't count

Because we can afford them.

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