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J Affect Disord. 2002 Oct;72(1):1-14.

Toward a revised evolutionary adaptationist analysis of depression: the social navigation hypothesis.

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Department of Biology, Castetter Hall, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-1091, USA.


Evolutionary biologists use Darwinian theory and functional design ("reverse engineering") analyses, to develop and test hypotheses about the adaptive functions of traits. Based upon a consideration of human social life and a functional design analysis of depression's core symptomatology we offer a comprehensive theory of its adaptive significance called the Social Navigation Hypothesis (SNH). The SNH attempts to account for all intensities of depression based on standard evolutionary theories of sociality, communication and psychological pain. The SNH suggests that depression evolved to perform two complimentary social problem-solving functions. First, depression induces cognitive changes that focus and enhance capacities for the accurate analysis and solution of key social problems, suggesting a social rumination function. Second, the costs associated with the anhedonia and psychomotor perturbation of depression can persuade reluctant social partners to provide help or make concessions via two possible mechanisms, namely, honest signaling and passive, unintentional fitness extortion. Thus it may also have a social motivation function.

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