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Medicine Science

Depression May Provide Cognitive Advantages 512

Hugh Pickens writes "Paul W. Andrews and J. Anderson Thomson, Jr. argue in Scientific American that although depression is considered a mental disorder, depression may in fact be a mental adaptation which provides real benefits. This is not to say that depression is not a problem. Depressed people often have trouble performing everyday activities, they can't concentrate on their work, they tend to socially isolate themselves, they are lethargic, and they often lose the ability to take pleasure from such activities such as eating and sex. So what could be so useful about depression? 'Depressed people often think intensely about their problems,' write the authors. 'These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.' Various studies have found that people in depressed mood states are better at solving social dilemmas and there is evidence that people who get more depressed while they are working on complex problems in an intelligence test tend to score higher on the test (PDF). 'When one considers all the evidence, depression seems less like a disorder where the brain is operating in a haphazard way, or malfunctioning. Instead, depression seems more like the vertebrate eye — an intricate, highly organized piece of machinery that performs a specific function.'"
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Depression May Provide Cognitive Advantages

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  • Re:Reverse causation (Score:5, Informative)

    by McNihil ( 612243 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @09:05AM (#29215417)
  • Re:old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by alexhs ( 877055 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @09:05AM (#29215419) Homepage Journal

    Here [] is a link (pointing to studies).

  • Well doh (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @09:12AM (#29215537) Homepage

    Honestly, we all know that there are things like "taking things too seriously" and "taking things too lightly". Depression isn't there as a cruel joke to make miserable people more miserable, it's to make sure that in a grave situation you take a honest look at the situation and deal with it. It's a natural self-defense mechanism that for example you probably wouldn't want to have sex, get pregnant and have a child in a bad situation, being a leftover from before contraception. Of course some people get too much of it, just like others want to cuddle the cute grizzly bear and don't see a problem until they make a Darwin award of themselves. Very few aspects of typical human behavior is really that irrational, though it can be really out of place in the modern world.

  • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @09:23AM (#29215675) Homepage Journal

    I find it much more difficult to think logically about my own emotional problems when I am depressed.

    My emphasis is added there... because I think it's true. I think though the argument that seems to be made here is that you can think better analytically. I know as much as I have tried through my years of depression to think an emotional problem through analytically it has never worked.

    Again.. Depression is not a good thing to have no matter what any study says. Just because it can give you a slight advantage in one area of life doesn't mean it gives you a major disadvantage in another area (or with Depression many areas) of life.

  • by Athanasius ( 306480 ) <`slashdot' `at' `'> on Thursday August 27, 2009 @10:23AM (#29216603) Homepage
    From a long experience with various SSRIs, an nSRI, an anti-psychotic and a beta blocker (and now an anti-convulsant with alleged action against anxiety, but it's too soon to draw conclusions on that one yet) I can tell you that the coin can also land on its edge, i.e. the medication does sweet fuck all other than a few side effects at the start and possible withdrawal symptoms if you come off it too quickly (thanks Venlafaxine for that lovely 'rollercoaster' effect).
  • Re:wait... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Zashi ( 992673 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @12:10PM (#29218163) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, but the cut off for "genius" for the test I took is 145. So I'm just barely there. I know lots of people with high IQs. I'm actually quite dumb for a "genius." I'm probably the dumbest genius any of my friends have ever met. Besides, if I were to lie about my IQ I'd either go way higher or way lower. 175 is an IQ worth lying about. 148... meh.
  • Re:Reverse causation (Score:3, Informative)

    by adolf ( 21054 ) <> on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:06AM (#29226857) Journal

    I've driven nails with a screwdriver. And I've driven screws with a hammer. (And no, I'm not speaking metaphorically -- I really have done both. But if metaphors are in order: Given a problem, one uses the tools that one has, doesn't one?)

    I've been on antidepressants of various description before. I've learned, through them over time, how to cause myself to "feel normal." I've weaned myself from them properly over the course of months. Things seemed just fine for a long time -- most of a decade, in fact.

    And now, years later, I've failed. Suicide became, and was, a realistic option until quite recently, for me. So real that I've openly discussed the topic with my wife and a few very close friends. (No, none of them had the sense to admit me, because they realize that doing so would be deadly in that fragile state. Suicide watch at the looney bin doesn't keep a smart person from killing themself.)

    So, my point, however meek it is: Knowing what "well" feels like isn't always a cure. I've been well, I've been depressed, I've been treated, I've re-learned what "well" means, and I've gone backward.

    I'm beginning, slowly, to get back toward "well." Medication seems to be helping, but it took most of a year for it to begin doing so. I'm finally at a stage now where I'm finally going back to work on a regular basis (thanks, Boss, for not firing me for my months of dispondancy!), and I'm learning (again!) how to feel decent about myself.

    It's hard, though. Drugs aren't a cure-all. They help, sure, but it's not always a permanent fix.

    I miss a dose, I realize what hell things are, and I regress very rapidly. For fuck's sake: I called off work on Monday, after spending an hour and a half in the shower thinking about my dead sister and the daughter and blood family that I don't get to talk to, and it's like: Fuck! I'm broken! *revert* *revert* *revert*

    I woke my wife up on her day off, and told her I wasn't going to go to work today, because I forgot to take my meds and was thinking about all kinds of things that needn't be thought about.

    And yeah, she was all cool and understanding once I explained it, and I got to chill for a day. But now, she wants money to pay for new plates for the cars, and I need money to pay for my (stupidly inexpensive) Dreamhost acccount which is a couple of months past-due, and it's like: Fuck! I should've worked Monday even if it hurt so badly that I might've not lived through the day.

    It's an ugly hole. Some folks might find it easier than others to dig their way out of it, but it's still ugly and often quite deep. And sometimes, even after you think you're free and clear, it sucks you back in for more.

    Today, I feel alright. My meds are straight, and I got a few difficult things accomplished today while I was at work.

    Tomorrow, who knows? I've already eaten my daily dose, but that's no reason to suspect that I might not decide to run the car into a bridge abutment at 160MPH after carefully sabotaging the seatbelt to make sure the insurance pays out for those I love.

    Yay, depression. It's an ugly deck, but that's all the cards I've got to play.

    (I'd post anon, but there's no useful way to get this account traced back to a real person.)

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard