Arnold Kling  

Psychological Effects of Status Rank Changes

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Anthony Stevens and John Price wrote


depression is an adaptive response to losing rank and conceiving of oneself as a loser. The adaptive function of the depression, according to rank theory, is to facilitate losing and to promote accommodation to the fact that one has lost. In other words, the depressive state evolved to promote the acceptance of the subordinate role...

an internal inhibitory process comes into operation which causes the individual to cease competing and reduce his level of aspiration. This inhibitory process is involuntary and results in the loss of energy, depressed mood, sleep disturbance, poor appetite, retarded movements, and loss of confidence which are typical characteristics of depression.

The hypothesis was (the excerpt is from a book written in 1996) that depression allows losers to adapt peacefully to a loss of status, and thus it improves the survival of the overall group. I am not sure whether this belongs in Tyler Cowen's neurodiversity sphere or Robin Hanson's status and signaling sphere. Pointer from Patri Friedman.


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COMMENTS (3 to date)
agnostic writes:

"that depression allows losers to adapt peacefully to a loss of status, and thus it improves the survival of the overall group. "

It's survival of genes that matter, though, not groups (except to the extent that this promotes survival of genes).

Take two individuals who lose status: A gets depressed and accepts inferior status, while B never accepts it and keeps trying to get back high status. In hierarchical societies, A will have greater genetic success than B because he won't get killed by the new dominant person / coalition.

Hunter-gatherer societies aren't hierarchical, so depression will only show up in agricultural and industrial populations. Sure enough, the variants of the serotonin transporter that predispose to depression are at higher frequencies in Europe and East Asia compared to sub-Saharan Africa.

hacs writes:

A caveat: any individual plays many games (work, marriage, parenthood/motherhood, etc) at any time, and a serious loss in an important game can send him/her through depression, compelling him/her to new losses (any game), and so forth.

There is not survival of the group, natural selection works on each specimen, not on groups. That is a misconception.

Dan Weber writes:

that depression allows losers to adapt peacefully

I know you didn't mean it this way, but the first time through I read your use of "losers" as derisive. Maybe I was thinking too much of this classic Onion article.

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