‘Culture Of We’ Buffers Genetic Tendency To Depression

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.

Science Daily: ‘Culture Of We’ Buffers Genetic Tendency To Depression

2 Comments

  1. “I am happy / I am depressed” vs. “We are happy / we are depressed.” I think that’s more accurate than thinking happy East / depressed West, which is implied in the article.

  2. There’s an important differentiation to make here: the study does not suggest that those in “collectivist” societies are happier – it suggests that they are less depressed. Both “happiness” and “depression” are difficult things to measure, but these two studies indicate that the US and several western nations are “happier” than Japan and China:

    http://colombiapassport.com/2008/07/02/list-of-ranked-happiest-countries-by-world-values-surveys/

    http://www.financialjesus.com/how-to-get-rich/top-10-happiest-countries/

    If both the study in question, and the two studies above are to be believed (and they could very well all be wrong) we could conclude that the US has more of both extremes: happiness and depression, while Japan and China exist at a more mediocre baseline.

    Longevity researchers and happiness researchers have both stressed the importance of social connections. See:

    http://mutateweb.com/archives/2009/04/07/what-do-the-longest-lived-cultures-in-the-world-have-in-common/

    http://mutateweb.com/archives/2009/05/09/happiness-it-really-is-contagious/

    http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/social-life-wards-off-senile-dementia-719065.html

    Taken together, this may suggest that one may be able to achieve some of the purported benefits of “collectivist society” within western nations by becoming more engaged in communities of their own choosing.

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