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.
[ ]…What surprised them was the robust association they found between the degree of collectiveness of a particular nation and the degree to which a disproportionate number of people carried the short allele of the STG. Collectivistic nations were found to have significantly more individuals who carry the short allele of the STG. Even more remarkably, they found, collectivistic nations, such as East Asia, where nearly 80 percent of the population is genetically susceptible to depression, the actual prevalence of depression is significantly lower than in individualistic nations, such as the United States and Western Europe.
Its difficult to argue with alleles, they’re short or long. I would give pause to thinking about western culture as placing actual emphasis on individuality. The U.S. and western Europe in general likes to think their culture esteems individuality as a virtue, but we might be talking more about a belief in the myth of rugged individualism then the actuality – some interesting history on this in the U.S. – The Cultural Myth of the Cowboy, or, How the West Was Won. Since the researchers did not say they controlled for any behaviors that could be measured as uniquely individual, I suspect that we are talking about self and national perception. What we seem to do frequently in the U.S. and not being particularly judgmental about the phenomenon, is have a kind of generally agreed upon framework of individuality. Anyone that goes to some of the larger biker conventions or just reads the coverage in the local papers will see interviews with participants in which the words – individualism, personal freedom, liberty, free to be yourself are used often. What the bikers say varies very little from person to person or year to year. Then look at the pictures and video. You have a lot of people that talk alike, dress alike and behave alike. Not to pick on bikers, corporate executives are pretty locked into a different style within the same framework. Many of the southern good old boys that I grew up around form their own sub-culture in which they all very much feel as though they’re rugged individualists – they dress similarly, use much of the same vocabulary, have similar interests and work at jobs that are about the same on the social ranking scale. The Ivy League realm of academia – Princeton, Yale, Brown -are pretty close to following the same pattern. So maybe its the myth of individuality in western cultures rather then the actual culture. In some ways it would seem like that pursuit of individualism in the west where its easy to find some kindred spirits would lesson the national depression level. Why aren’t the peer groups that most of us end up being a part of failing to fill the void where depression enters. These sub-cultures – you don’t have to dress in all black or worship a strange deity to be a sub-culture – are ironically a kind of emotional collective.
The east may not have those same same modern pressures in terms of splintering people off into groups, but in general Asia may not have that option. Not because of politics, or at least politics exclusively, but because in general the populations are poorer. When you’re struggling to meet basic needs, just the right pair of Harley-Davidson boots or the newest Armani tie is a luxury. An luxury of illusion about expressing one’s individuality that the average person cannot afford. Your survival might rely much more on group/family success at finding work and food. Under the circumstances they cannot afford the luxury of depression or entertain ideas about self express through means that are ultimately mostly appearances, then aligning oneself with like minded peers.
A related post – The Body and the Individual
A cell phone video shows San Jose police officers repeatedly using batons and a Taser gun on an unarmed San Jose State student, including at least one baton strike that appears to come after the man is handcuffed, as they took him into custody inside his home last month.
Most police do not engage in this type of behavior. I wonder if law enforcement just attracts a certain percentage of people with a sadistic streak. Its pretty well known among professional firefighters they have a similar problem, their profession attracts arsonists. Every time we have one of these police brutality events some spokesperson will say they just need better training. That might be part of the problem, but how about creating a better psychological screening process.