Sunday, March 21, 2010

Depression Hypothesis Responses

Jonah Lehrer's widely read article on the "upside" of depressive episodes has sparked a lively debate. David Dobbs offers good commentary with which I mostly concur:
The sensitivity or orchid hypothesis asserts that these short SERT variants don't make people more sensitive to bad experience but to all experience, bad or good. It's not a "depression gene" but a sensitivity gene.

What you make of that sensitivity naturally depends on other assets or experiences you have. If this is so, then it's possible that this sensitivity hypothesis may account (wholly or in part) for findings that "depressed people" have more insights or creativity -- only it's not necessarily the depression that generates the insight, it's the heightened
This makes more sense to me from an evolutionary standpoint. There is a spectrum of sensitivity to depressive tendencies, probably mediated by a fair number of distinct genetic polymorphisms. An individual that falls far to the depressive end of this spectrum may be more susceptible to depressive episodes, depending of course upon his "other assets or experiences." But this individual will also be more sensitive to other stimuli, which presumably will be advantageous to him in making babies or in making his babies more likely to survive to make more babies. So, depressive episodes could be correlated with creative impulses without the causal relationship that Lehrer talks about.

In the comments of Dobb's response the Neurocritic adds,
You raised valid points about the complexity of some of the issues, such as clinical diagnosis. But after examining the Andrews & Thomson Psych Review article again, it seems like an even bigger crock of sh*t. ART is cavalier about any distinction between sadness and severe depression.