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Mental Health
Overview of the Day
Traditional view
Evolutionary view
What is mental health
Traditional view of mental health
and abnormal behavior
Atheoretical: based on atheoretical
classifications in the DSM-III
Theoretical hodge-podge, definitions differ
based on popular psychological theories of the
day
Tends to presume an ideal of normality and
happiness
Lacks firm grounding in evolution and biology
Mental Illness and
Normality
“The only normal people are the ones you
don’t know too well.”
Rodney Dangerfield (Esquire, October, 2000,
p. 174)
Mental Health and
Evolution
How important is ‘happiness’?
Is there really such as ‘normality’?
An Evolutionary Perspective
on True Mental Illness
 “Dysfunction occurs when the mechanism is not
performing as it was designed to perform in the context
in which it was designed for function” (Buss, 2000, p.
399)
Does not activate when it should, when confronted
with an adaptive problem (lack of fear of heights)
Is activated when it should not (Incest)
Fails to coordinate with other other mechanisms (self
assessment and mating behavior)
Possible causes of
mechanism failure
Developmental insults
Ingesting toxins, parasite infections during
childhood (parasite theory of schizophrenia)
Chance genetic variation
Price we pay for variation (some variants go
beyond normal bounds)
Mutations
failure to copy DNA accurately
Other evolutionary
explanations
Side effects of some genes
Some beneficial genes (creativity) have
negative side effects, but benefits outweigh
the costs (depression, bipolar disorder)
Carrying a gene for a disorder (e.g.,
schizophrenia) conveys an advantage (e.g.,
creativity) for people who do not have the
disorder
Mental Health “Problems” Erroneously
Labeled as Dysfunctions (1)
Defenses
depression in response to a personal failure
Mismatch between EEA and modern
environment
eating disorders (unrealistic media representations of
“typical body type)
PSTD (10% in response to natural disaster; 20-50%
in response to modern, made-made disasters)
general anxiety (worry induced by multiple modern
technologies)
Mental Health “Problems” Erroneously
Labeled as Dysfunctions (2)
 Normal mistakes accompanying ”on average”
mechanism functioning
male false positives in interpreting female signs of
sexual interest
 Socially undesirable behavior based on normal
mechanism functioning
lower quality care, on average, of stepchildren
 Normal variation in “personality”
extremes can provide a fitness advantage (e.g., impulsiveness,
schizotypy)
Social Competition
Hypothesis of Depression
Performance impairment is a characteristic of a
depressed state:
social withdrawal
lack of energy
poor self esteem
lack of normal interests
negative view of self, others, and the world in
general
Performance impairment can be adaptive
sleep, hibernation
Yielding in Competitive
Situations
Resource-holding potential (RHP)
fighting capacity
self-esteem
Knowledge of RHP is important for
competitive behavior
Survival in competitive situations requires
yielding to a superior opponent
Competition and
Depression
 “If voluntary yielding is blocked for any reason, the
involuntary subordinate strategy may become intense
and prolonged and may be recognized as depressive
illness” (Price, et al. 1997, p. 243)
 Sexual selection
inter-sexual selection, intra-sexual selection
depression and love affairs
 Social hierarchy
loss of rank has been shown to be associated with depression in
a variety of species (vervet monkey experiment)
rank and serotonin
Sex Differences in Mental
Disorders
Disorders more common in women are due to:
failure to failure to attract a mate (histronic
personality and erotomania)
failure to reproduce (anorexia nervosa and
depression)
37% of females show such disturbances due to infertility
whereas only 1% of males do
failure to develop social-support networks
(depression)
intrusions into somatic territory(agoraphobia and
hypochondriasis
 Females are more likely to experience depression than
men
oppressive, dominating male behavior
male possessiveness and constraints on female social
options, including female networks
male preference for short-term sexual relationships
and female preference for longer-term relationships
 One study found that females do not have higher rates
of depression than males when they have equal
opportunities
Disorders more common in men are due
to:
competitive losses (impulse-related disorders,
depression, alcoholism, suicide)
female access problems (some types of sexual
deviance)
these types of disorders are much more common among
males than females
An Evolutionary Psychological Perspective
on Treatment of Mental Illness
Effective applications generally require an
accurate understanding of underlying
principles
Design of wheels for different types of
vehicles (bicycles, lawnmowers, snow
throwers, trains, tractors, race cars, sedans,
trucks)
Are our approaches to treatment of mental
illness on par with wheel design in terms of
understanding basic principles?
Treatments (from an
Evolutionary Perspective)
No distinctive evolutionarily-based
treatments have yet emerged
Some suggestions and speculations
addressing causes that are suggested by EP
improve social, romantic, competitive skills
• Standard hospital treatment 46% recovery
– 5% of 5 time in skill-related activities
• Milieu therapy 71% recovery
• Social learning therapy 97% recovery
– 85% of time in organized skill-learning activities
 Understand origins of problems and adjust life and
expectations accordingly
competition, mating issues
 Understand and accept
variation
functions of depression, anxiety, fear, sadness
 happiness is not end-all and be-all
 Chemically based therapies to alter hardwiring when
necessary
 Therapies to illustrate errors in thinking
Importance of:
social networks
close family ties
healthy habits
Summary
Traditional view
Evolutionary view
When mental “problems” are not
What is mental health