Monday, September 7, 2009

Sometimes when you're on, you're really f****in' on

Recently I commented on an article about childhood depression with the question, How come we can accept that some people have standard moods that fall above the norm, but not that some might fall below the norm? Seems I'm not the only one thinking about the normalcy of mood variability. This article in the most recent Scientific American suggests:
...that depression is not a malfunction, but a mental adaptation that brings certain cognitive advantages
The researchers hypothesize, with the support of a fair amount of research, that depression might have evolutionary advantages because is fosters intense, analytical thinking. For example,
Laboratory experiments indicate that depressed people are better at solving social dilemmas by better analysis of the costs and benefits of the different options that they might take.
The authors conclude by arguing:
...depression is nature’s way of telling you that you’ve got complex social problems that the mind is intent on solving. Therapies should try to encourage depressive rumination rather than try to stop it...
All of this interesting, and somewhat ironic (don't you think?), given that completely different research is beginning to show that many therapies seem to work on depression through the exact opposite of analytical thinking - the placebo effect for antidepressants is increasing drastically. Wired reports:
Some products that have been on the market for decades, like Prozac, are faltering in more recent...tests...Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.
People aren't sure why the placebo effect has increased so drastically for antidepressants, but some hypothesize it has to do with, basically, fooling people into thinking they should be getting better:
In other words, one way that placebo aids recovery is by hacking the mind's ability to predict the future. We are constantly parsing the reactions of those around us—such as the tone a doctor uses to deliver a diagnosis—to generate more-accurate estimations of our fate. One of the most powerful placebogenic triggers is watching someone else experience the benefits of an alleged drug.
So if you consider what these two disparate lines of research might indicate, the outcome seems to be this: (1) Depression is (in part) the mind's way of making us thinking rationally, and (2) treatments for depression work (in part) by making us think irrationally. Excellent.

Title reference here

Posted at Reverse Sickology

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