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Psychol Rep. 2011 Jun;108(3):977-92.

An evolutionary hypothesis of suicide: why it could be biologically adaptive and is so prevalent in certain occupations.

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  • 1Obara Hospital, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan.


From an evolutionary perspective, suicide is a puzzle, because it has serious adverse effects, yet is remarkably common and heritable. An hypothesis is proposed to explain this puzzle, by explaining how suicide could be adaptive through reducing risk that individuals will transmit infections to kin. Empirical evidence supports four predictions from the hypothesis. There are well-established mechanisms by which infections and immune factors increase risk for mental disorders that contribute to suicide. Suicide is more prevalent in occupations with greater exposure to infection and immune-compromising factors and at higher latitudes, where key environmental factors increase vulnerability to infection. In several other highly social species, suicide-like behaviors have evolved to reduce transmission of infections. If the hypothesis is correct, detection and treatment of underlying infections and immune dysfunction should help predict and prevent suicidal behavior, while also combating spread of infectious diseases.

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