www.epjournal.net – 2008. 6(3): 409-412
Evolutionary Basis of Depression?
Review of Paul Keedwell, How Sadness Survived: The Evolutionary Basis of Depression.
Radcliffe Publishing, Oxford, 2008, 176 pp, US$29.95 ISBN 1846190134
Dieneke Hubbeling, Consultant Psychiatrist, South West London and St. George’s Trust, London, UK.
Some books are interesting for experts and can be understood by lay people as well.
This is actually not uncommon in evolutionary theory; Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (Dennett,
1995) and The Selfish Gene (Dawkins, 1976) are well-known examples. Depression has
been studied from an evolutionary framework, so the idea of writing a book about it for
both experts and lay people seems reasonable.
The author of How Sadness Survived has a track record in depression research, (e.g.
Keedwell, Andrew, Williams, Brammer, & Phillips, 2005). Therefore, being a practicing
psychiatrist with an interest in evolutionary psychology I looked forward to reading it.
Unfortunately, although at times interesting, overall the content is somewhat disappointing.
According to Keedwell, depression is caused by frustration of “archetypal needs”,
such as the need for a loving relationship and for shelter and security. It ostensibly has a re-
assessment function and encourages people to make changes in their life. This is an
interesting hypothesis, which, if correct, would explain how the ability to become
depressed could be adaptive.
There are a few inaccuracies in the book. For example, Keedwell states (p. xi) that
Mill wrote On Utilitarianism when he was 19 but this is incorrect, as the author later
acknowledged (Keedwell, 2008). Keedwell claims that Eysenck first coined the terms
introversion and extraversion (p. 141), whereas Jung mentioned introvert and extravert as
personality types before Eysenck (Mishel, Shoda, & Smith, 2004). However, it is not just
the odd oversight that is problematic