Asia Less Prone to Depression Than the West, Thanks to the 'We'
It is so because Westerners don't have the cultural support that can protect them from a genetic vulnerability to depression, the Northwestern University study claimed.
The researchers claimed that a genetic vulnerability to depression is much more likely to be realized in a Western culture than an East Asian culture that is more about we than me-me-me.
According to research, depression results from genes, environment and the interplay between the two.
One of the most profound ways that people across cultural groups differ markedly, cultural psychology demonstrates, is in how they think of themselves.
"People from highly individualistic cultures like the United States and Western Europe are more likely to value uniqueness over harmony, expression over agreement, and to define themselves as unique or different from the group," said Joan Chiao, the lead author of the study.
On the other hand, people from collectivist cultures are more likely to value social harmony over individuality.
Collectivist cultures may give individuals who are genetically susceptible to depression a tacit or explicit expectation of social support.
"Such support seems to buffer vulnerable individuals from the environmental risks or stressors that serve as triggers to depressive episodes," said Chiao.
The study compared genetic frequency information and cultural value data across 29 countries (major European countries as well as South Africa, Eastern Europe, South Asia, East Asia and South America).
The serotonin transporter gene (STG) that the researchers studied has two variants - a short allele and a long allele.
In Western populations, the short allele leads to a phenotype of major depressive episodes when people who carry it experience multiple life stressors.
It was also demonstrated that nations within East Asia are typically more collectivistic.
Collectivistic nations were found to have significantly more individuals who carry the short allele of the STG.
Even more remarkably, they found, collectivistic nations, such as East Asia, where nearly 80 percent of the population is genetically susceptible to depression, the actual prevalence of depression is significantly lower than in individualistic nations, such as the United States and Western Europe.
The findings suggest that culture-based treatments may be equally if not more effective at reducing the risk for depression.
The study will be published online in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.