In a world full of vile, hateful incidents at every turn, a kind and generous human soul can sometimes feel hard to come by. A recent study claims there may be a reason for the rarity: niceness has been linked to more severe depression.
Researchers from Rutgers University have taken a look at the correlation between personality traits such as kindness and generosity, and the development of mental illnesses such as depression. The study showed a significant link between the two.
The Research. Researchers at Rutgers University took a look at previous studies that measured depression and various personality traits. From studying earlier research, they found a curious link between people who displayed niceties and a later development of depression.
Curious Findings. From looking at the findings, they became curious to study whether certain personality traits linked to being “nice” would put a person at a greater risk of depression. They set out to find out if their suspicions were true by using the previous studies as a base and building on the research.
Surveys. Using previous studies, the researchers were able to narrow in on the specific details they were looking for in a series of surveys given to study participants. They gave two separate surveys to 350 case study participants, and asked them to complete the questionnaires.
The Questionnaires. The questionnaires were formulated to specifically ask for first, their levels of kind behaviors, and second, their levels of depression. Newsweek reports the participants were given the tests in order to determine their degree of niceness to be compared with their degree of sadness or depression.
Prosocial or Individual. “For the study, the experimenters gave almost 350 people a personality test to determine if they were more ‘prosocial’ or ‘individualist,’ meaning more or less concerned with distributing resources equally. Then they gave the participants surveys to measure their tendency to depression,” Newsweek reports.
Games. To ensure they were getting the most accurate results, researchers took the approach of playing games to determine how socially conscious the participants were. During the games, participants were asked to make financial decisions in regard to affecting themselves and others, and their brain functions were monitored during the decision-making process.
Prosocial People. The prosocial group – or the “kind” people as they were identified in the simplest terms – “were more likely to reject deals that were unfair, and their brains showed a distinct reaction to these deals. They were also more likely to pick deals that were fair,” Newsweek reported.
The Results. Scientists followed up with their group of participants one year later and took another survey to look for signs of mental health issues. What they found showed a significant uptick in mental illness and depression symptoms in those who had been placed in the “prosocial” group.
Published Study. The group was able to have their study reviewed by peers and approved for publication in an American medical journal. They published the findings in the October issue of “Nature Human Behavior” which drew a lot of attention to their work.
Things to Consider. Having the work published allowed for a broader spectrum of eyes reviewing the work and bringing additional insight into the study and its findings. While the work was found to be quite solid, others have pointed out there are things to keep in mind when considering the results.
It Doesn’t Mean Doom. The biggest consideration others have warned about, is that finding the link doesn’t correlate to all kind people suffering from depression. “’Scientific American’ points out the study doesn’t necessarily mean that caring about other people dooms you to depression,” the article states.
Considering Participants. In another consideration, scientists point out the participants in the group were of a specific subset. The group participants were all aged 18 to 26, which allowed for a similar bracket to eliminate discrepancies age can bring, it also disallows further development.
The Age Discrepancy. Because the participants were all a moderately young age, they do not have fully developed brains yet. Their brains will process scenarios much differently than older brains, which also affects the likelihood of developing mental illnesses.
Predisposition. Other factors that could have influenced the study were rooted in genetics and family history. The researchers did not take into account any family history of mental illness or any genetic predisposition to mental diseases that could also trigger a later depression diagnosis.
Counseling. Overall, the study gained high praise for their extensive work, and insight into the link between kindness and depression. The key, they said, is to find a way to cope with the emotional state of compassion. “Therapy could be a good shot at learning to keep those prosocial attitudes without becoming depressed,” Newsweek reported.