A variety of evidence indicates that depressed individuals experience low quality in their interactions with others. Again, a consideration of emotion processes might help explain why it is that depressed individuals exhibit this pattern of social dysfunction. An emerging view of emotional functioning in depression suggests that the primary problem in depressed individuals is that they exhibit emotional stereotypy, or a loss in the capacity to generate emotional responses that are appropriate to changing environmental contexts. Stereotypy of emotional behaviors has a number of implications for social functioning. We now consider the effects of emotional stereotypy on the interaction partners of depressed individuals, highlighting the role of micro-level socioemotional linkages between social and emotional behavior as it unfolds in specific interactions over relatively brief periods of time.
Because emotions provide such valuable social information, disturbances in emotional responsiveness are likely to disrupt relationships in important ways. As we have reviewed, a growing body of evidence indicates that depressed individuals exhibit stereotyped emotional behaviors that are insensitive to changing environmental contexts. This emotional stereotypy often leads to inappropriate social behavior. Consistent with the chronic over-activation of their defense system, depressed individuals' social behaviors often communicate self-derogation, helplessness, and problem disclosure. Importantly, because these emotional behaviors are often emitted without respect for the immediate audience or social context, they are naturally judged as often being inappropriately self-disclosing (Jacobson & Anderson, 1982). Indeed, when they are motivated to socialize, depressed individuals often communicate to others that they are overwhelmed by their problems, seek reassurance, and attempt to draw others in to solve their problems—requests that may or may not be granted (Joiner, 2002). Interestingly, in some contexts, this set of depressed behaviors can be successful in reducing threat and eliciting support. For instance, Biglan et al. (1985) and Hops et al. (1987) have shown that depressive behavior can serve to reduce the likelihood of aversive responses from family members. In this respect, depressive behavior appears to be similar to displays of distress in nondepressed individuals, which have the capacity to elicit signs of distress, concern, and overt attempts at helping in others (e.g., Batson & Shaw, 1991; Zahn-Waxler et al., 1992).
Although the stereotypy of emotional behavior in depression might temporarily recruit social support, it is likely to carry with it extremely high costs for the quality of the social interaction. For example, it is clear that stereotyped emotional behavior violates a number of assumptions about how typical interactions should proceed (e.g., Davis, 1982; Segrin & Abramson, 1994). Theorists have observed, for instance, that most communicative behaviors carry an implicit demand for an appropriately elaborate and relevant response (e.g., Davis, 1982). People whose behavior is rigid and unchanging over the course of one or several interactions would naturally frustrate their partners' desire for dynamic feedback both about their own performance and about the state of their relationship. Emotional stereo-typy also is likely to be aversive to others because it violates basic expectations about emotion-expressive reciprocity. Indeed, considerable research indicates that, while interacting, people mirror one another when they are emotionally expressive. This pattern of behavior has been observed with respect to both embarrassment (Miller, 1987) and laughter (Provine, 1992). In short, we believe that emotional stereotypy erodes the quality of social interactions. Clearly, this is an important deficit to understand as we begin to integrate social and emotional functioning in depressive disorders. Further study of this deficit has the potential to illuminate several different elements of depressive social behavior, including the paradoxical finding that behaviors that are emitted by depressed people have the capacity to elicit both care and rejection from their interaction partners (Coyne, 1976).
Was this article helpful?
Learning About Letting Go, Moving On Can Have Amazing Benefits For Your Life And Success! Don't be held back by the past - face your guilt and fears and move on! Letting go is merely arriving at a decision, no more allowing something from the past tense to influence your life today or to cut down your inner sense of peace and welfare.