Science Fact of the Day #3: The Bargaining Model of Depression

Today we’ll look at a fairly recent model of depression: the bargaining model.

In a 2003 book edited by Peter Hammerstein, Genetic and Cultural Evolution of Cooperation, chapter 6 is an essay (I believe based on a talk) on this model, “The Bargaining Model of Depression.”

The author, Edward Hagen, proposes depression might be explained as a strategy to gain assistance and support from powerful members of a social group by members which are weaker. This is due to the difficulty that physically or socially weaker people have utilizing force, threats of force, or persuasive rhetoric to achieve their goal (96-97).

The idea then is that the depressed person is acting in a fashion that is costly both to themselves and to the group, but that the group will perceive the loss of activity and exuberance from the individual as too costly to endure and therefore provide assistance to the individual or make changes to the group on their account (100). All of this is proposed as unconscious.

One interesting observation in the paper was this:

“It is not yet apparent whether depression symptoms themselves help enable “fresh starts” (or would have in the EEA), but this is, of course, precisely the proposed function of depression. It is therefore encouraging that “fresh starts” are closely associated with the remission of depression and may even cause it. (101)”

The idea that fresh starts may cause the remission of depression counts as evidence for the model because often the fresh starts come can come as the result of help from roommates, spouses, and near-by family. Interestingly, in cases with less social contact, depression is more likely to continue without obstacle (101). Lots of other research demonstrates this to be the case.

The model isn’t entirely persuasive to me, but elsewhere Hagen has found some evidence in favor of the model. For instance, lower grip strength predicts depression.

Anyway, that’s one model for depression among many.

Any thoughts?

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