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Viewing Depression Through an Evolutionary Lens

Photo by Enrique Ramos Lopez via iStock

This research explores how human evolution has shaped mental health with a focus on depression. From an evolutionary perspective, certain traits have been passed on from generation to generation because they enhanced our ability to reproduce and pass on genes in the environments in which humans evolved. 

Fast-forward to present-day, where certain responses like hyper-vigilance may result in poorer health outcomes in our current environment, where social and work-related stress are more common. Through this lens, researchers suspect one of the reasons depression evolved is because it signaled that an individual was at a risk of failing to fulfill evolution’s mandates, such as reproduction, group belonging, safety and survival.

People Working on This Study

Charles L. Raison
Affiliated Faculty at the Center for Healthy Minds, Mary Sue and Mike Shannon Chair for Healthy Minds, Children & Families, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies

Media Related to this Project

Inflammation, Saunas, and the New Science of Depression
Feb 17, 2020
Faculty member Charles Raison talks about depression and recent research on mind-body coherence and interventions

Related Publications

Raison, C. L., & Miller, A. H. (2013). The evolutionary significance of depression in Pathogen Host Defense (PATHOS-D). Molecular Psychiatry18(1), 15.
Miller, A. H., & Raison, C. L. (2016). The role of inflammation in depression: from evolutionary imperative to modern treatment target. Nature Reviews Immunology, 16(1), 22-34. doi:10.1038/nri.2015.5 PMCID: PMC5542678
Raison, C. L., & Miller, A. H. (2016). Pathogen–host defense in the evolution of depression: Insights into epidemiology, genetics, bioregional differences and female preponderance. Neuropsychopharmacology, 42(1), 5. doi:10.1038/npp.2016.194 PMCID: PMC5143499
Raison, C. L., & Raichlen, A. D., (2018). An evolutionary perspective on nutrition and social decision making. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(7), E1331. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1721889115
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