The bright side of being blue: Depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems 

Authors:  Paul W. Andrews, J. Anderson Thomson Jr.

Abstract:  Depression ranks as the primary emotional condition for which help is sought. Depressed people often have severe, complex problems, and rumination is a common feature. Depressed people often believe that their ruminations give them insight into their problems, but clinicians often view depressive rumination as pathological because it is difficult to disrupt and interferes with the ability to concentrate on other things. Abundant evidence indicates that depressive rumination involves the analysis of episode-related problems. Because analysis is time consuming and requires sustained processing, disruption would interfere with problem-solving. The analytical rumination (AR) hypothesis proposes that depression is an adaptation that evolved as a response to complex problems and whose function is to minimize disruption of rumination and sustain analysis of complex problems.  It accomplishes this by giving episode-related problems priority access to limited processing resources, by reducing the desire to engage in distracting activities (anhedonia), and by producing psychomotor changes that reduce exposure to distracting stimuli. Because processing resources are limited, the inability to concentrate on other things is a tradeoff that must be made to sustain analysis of the triggering problem. The analytical rumination hypothesis is supported by  evidence from many levels, including genes, neurotransmitters and their receptors, neurophysiology, neuroanatomy, neuroenergetics, pharmacology, cognition and behavior, and the efficacy of treatments. In addition, we address and provide explanations for puzzling findings in the cognitive and behavioral genetics literatures on depression. In the process, we challenge the belief that serotonin transmission is low in depression. Finally, we discuss implications of the hypothesis for understanding and treating depression..

Citation Andrews, P. W., & Thomson, Jr., J. A. (2009). The bright side of being blue: Depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems. Psychological Review, 116(3), 620-654..

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