Anti-social behavior in girls predicts adolescent depression seven years later

February 17, 2009 Joel Schwarz,

( -- Past behavior is generally considered to be a good predictor of future behavior, but new research indicates that may not be the case in the development of depression, particularly among adolescent girls.

University of Washington social scientists tracked first- and second-graders for seven years and found that anti-social behavior among girls and anxiety among both sexes predicted depression in early adolescence. Surprisingly, early signs of depression were not predictive of adolescent depression.

"Anti-social behavior has typically been viewed as a big problem among boys, so it tends to be ignored among girls. Boys with early anti-social behavior typically go on to show more anti-social behavior while girls may turn inward with symptoms, morphing into other mental health problems such as depression eating disorders, anxiety and suicidal behavior during adolescence ," said James Mazza, a UW professor of educational psychology and lead author of the new study. He is currently serving as the past president of the American Association of Suicidology.

"When all the risk factors were analyzed, anti-social behavior and anxiety were the most predictive of later depression. It just may be that they are more prevalent in the early elementary school years than depression." He noted that depression and anxiety share a number of symptoms.

Mazza said that early adolescence is when the first episode of depression typically occurs and that's when it has been noted that gender difference occur, with more girls than boys experiencing depressive symptoms. Children can be assessed at 6 and 7 years of age, but depression is not often recognized or diagnosed until the middle school years.

Children in this study were drawn from a larger project looking at the risks for health and behavior problems. That project was conducted by the university's Social Development Research Group, with which Mazza is affiliated. More than 800 children participated in the depression study. Eighty-one percent were white and 54 percent were boys.

Data were collected annually from the children and their parents and teachers when the children were in the first or second grade. The children filled out surveys that measured their levels of depression, anxiety and anti-social behavior, as well as other measures that were not investigated in this study. Parents and teachers filled out questionnaires about the children's anti-social behavior and social competency, which measured such things as the youngsters' abilities to understand other people's feeling, to make new friends and resolve conflicts. Teachers also rated each child's academic performance. In addition, parents filled out questionnaires concerning family and marital conflict, family stress and parental depression.

"One finding from this study that is a mind-grabber is that young children can identify themselves as being anxious and depressed," said Mazza. "When they had scores that were elevated we were a bit surprised because we thought they would say, 'My life is fun and I play a lot.' But they are able to understand and report feeling depressed or anxious, and tell us so. This suggests giving health surveys in early elementary school is a good idea and we should talk to kids in the first and second grades because they can give us valuable information."

Provided by University of Washington

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5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2009
Okay, at what point are they going to stop studying the obvious and go after finding out why we have anxious, unhappy, stressed children who grow up to anxious, unhappy, stressed and depressed adolescents...and assuming they survive adolescence, go on to be anxious, unhappy, stressed, depressed, and pharmacologically numbed adults?
3.5 / 5 (2) Feb 18, 2009
Okay, at what point are they going to stop studying the obvious and go after finding out why we have anxious, unhappy, stressed children who grow up to anxious, unhappy, stressed and depressed adolescents...and assuming they survive adolescence, go on to be anxious, unhappy, stressed, depressed, and pharmacologically numbed adults?

I can tell you why although this is just my observation which probably won't be proved scientifically any time soon.

Just as genetic mechanisms are for long term adaptation to changing conditions the neural network of the brain is for short term adaptation to changing conditions.

Psychological traits of newborns are randomized on purpose to some extent to provide a varied pool from which the individuals who work best in particular conditions in which the group found itself can be selected. This can be easily achieved by tweaking proportions of various neurotransmitters and hormones, for example one child will produce more stress hormones, the other more dopamine, yet another more GABA, these changes will lead to individuals with different psychological makeups.

The purpose of this randomization is to have a large spectrum of behaviors, these behaviors will then undergo selection as individuals grow up, this is the role of culture and tradition - to ensure that behaviors which are most rewarding to the species attain the highest social status.

The higher the social status the more children an individual can produce (this may not be true now but it was when these mechanisms were created by biology), so his traits will be passed on, but as before the actual traits of the children won't be those of the parents they will be once again randomized to provide variety for the next generation but the traits of parents will be much more likely to show up then others, after all the parents were successful so their traits are a safer bet for the future.

So in the end the behavior and psychological traits of individuals are randomized on purpose by biology to provide large pool of behaviors from which the ones most beneficial can be selected.

The whole mechanism described above is not tailored to human well-being it is tailored to survival of the species and depression of some individuals is the prices we pay. In the past depressed or outcast individuals would not live long.

There are also modern factors which amplify psychological problems, two obvious which come to mind:

First the culture which promotes ideals which are unattainable for anyone, this it the source of great suffering for amazing number of people, especially for females, in the past individuals only had to compare themselves to few tens of others from their group, now they compare themselves to artificially corrected ideals picked from billions of people.

Second the fact that we no longer live in groups can exacerbate psychological problems as people need social interaction for their well-being.
2 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2009
One more thing specifically about depression, as I said children have many different psychological traits and those most favorable for the group are selected by the group. However I think depression may not be just such trait, instead it is a mechanism which is a sort of group induced suicide and it's role is to rid the group of rejected individuals.

First consider this scenario:
A group rejects an individual but as the group is diverse it's unlikely that this rejection will be clear cut, rather the individual will have family, and some friends who won't like the decision. If rejected individual were to put up a fight the group would probably divide and either fight within themselves or part ways, both solutions would significantly weaken the chances of survival of the whole.

Now consider another one:
A group rejects an individual, this induces depression in him, he stops communicating with his friends and family, is apathic stops eating and becomes careless, in the past such individual would soon die most likely killed by predators.
This way fighting or split is avoided and it can even be said that the group benefits that the rejected individual becomes a victim of predator and not someone else.

Of course the second solution is cruel from our POV but the outcome is much better from group POV. We need to remember that in the past humans constantly fought for survival and it was much better to let one individual die then risk the lives of the whole group.

This is a somewhat similar mechanism to one chick pushing the other one out of the nest.

The higher tendency of boys to become antisocial can also be interpreted in this context, once rejected they would rather part with the group and either try to join another group or set their own one, or perhaps try to live alone until they could come back and challenge the group for leadership.
not rated yet Feb 18, 2009
"In addition, parents filled out questionnaires concerning family and marital conflict, family stress and parental depression. "

That is the important part here, and they didn't even mention if there were correlations to family situation. I'm guessing that there are probably significant correlations.
not rated yet Feb 18, 2009
Superhuman, where do you get your info from? I'm doing research on this topic.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2009
How about the obvious? We live in a society of neurotic and overstressed people constantly lying to everyone else including themselves. No one knows who they are or who they "should" be.

We are sold one thing but told to dislike at the same time. The answer is our screwy cult-ure.

You see a life of BS and are told to conform. You instinctualy rebel until you give up and enter depression when you find there is no place for you to fit in except as another mindless automaton.

What's the big mystery?
not rated yet Feb 19, 2009
Superhuman, where do you get your info from? I'm doing research on this topic.

These theories result from my personal observations and analysis, I have experience in biology and good understanding of evolution and I firmly believe that "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" as Theodosius Dobzhansky famously said.

So it is not from literature if that's what you are asking and personally I haven't seen anything similar published it, otoh I don't usually follow literature on this subject so it's quite possible I missed it. If you want to know more you can contact me by PM here on physorg.
not rated yet Feb 22, 2009
Superhuman's scenarios are ok as far as they go but presuppose that the cause of the behaviour is rejection by peergroup or community. I'm not sure that this is always the case here.

Here's another thought : what happens when it becomes 'fashionable' to be rejected or outcast? We have a whole generation (emo) who seem to want to tell everyone they are unloved, misunderstood and cast out when this is more than likely not true for most of them. To fit a trend, they start behaving in a way that unfortunately has bio-physical consequences. Once you get on this ride it can be hard to get off.
not rated yet Feb 22, 2009
More likely we are looking at natural controls in societies with increasing population density. Most species have mechanisms to respond to increases in population density. Humans have traditionally had war, disease, famine etc but today's controlled societies are moderating these. So the pressure just builds..
1 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2009
When considering the totality of depression and neuroses, I would lay 90% at the doorstep of family life. While other outside negative societal influences contribute, they too are a product of family life.

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