In brief, then, we have explored the types of evolved strategy (for dealing with separation, social defeats/involuntary low rank, and entrapments) that are designed to reduce resource seeking, confident exploration, and engagement in the environment. From an evolutionary point of view, activating these defences may be designed to be rapid (produce shifts in state), and switching from one defensive strategy to another (for example, from protest to despair) may also represent a switching point. This is not to say that some depressions are not the result of cumulative stress or that depression cannot emerge slowly. Nor is it to say that innate factors are the main controllers of the rapidity or intensity of switching into these states. Indeed, for some people, rapid shifting of states may be learned as a result of kindling (repeated activation of), conditioning, and sensitivity in key neurocircuitry (Sloman et al., 2003). Cognitive therapists use the idea of latent (explosive) schema activation (Beck, 1967). So the question of how human systems shift from one pattern to another is complex and multifactorial, but the question of 'what states' underpin depression can be illuminated by exploration of natural defences (such as protest-despair and entrapped defeat). Within this general frame, however, it has been stressed that for the severity of protest-despair, and demobilisation to defeats and mental defeats, there are major individual differences, found in both humans and animals, the source of which requires more research.

Even though today there are few major predators that threaten human infants, or the types of defeats humans encounter can be different from those of our primate ancestors, the templates of protest-despair and defeat-submission are still clearly available in our neuroarchitecture (Panksepp, 1998). Moreover, children and adults can be subject to a good deal of bullying, harassment, and rejection by parents, siblings, peers, or bosses, which has clear links to depression (Schuster, 1996). As I shall discuss in the last part of this chapter, even for those people who currently are not externally bullied, rejected, or harassed, there can be an ongoing internal harassment in the form of self-criticism and self-blame.

I should also say that the idea that depressed states are rooted in primitive evolved defensive strategies is not to undervalue models that stress the importance of control over one's life goals (e.g., Peterson et al., 1993)—defeats and entrapments can be inflicted in many ways (Gilbert, 1992). I am simply saying that to understand the changes in social cognition (such as the sense of self-as-inferior), social behaviour (such as submissiveness), and, often, intense changes of state in depression, we can suggest the activation of earlier evolved strategies that regulate NA and PA, and which are recruited to cope with a variety of stressors. So, for me, feeling abandoned and emotionally cut off from others, defeated and/or harassed with no way out; feeling trapped in a painful state of mind, inferior and/or subordinated in some way; and experiencing increases in poorly controlled defensive emotions, such as anger and anxiety, all these are ingredients in my 'depression cake'. These are the repeating themes in the clinic. But when we try to zero in on these themes, we must remember we are looking at a 'cooked cake'. In what follows, we will explore how the various interacting processes outlined, in this evolutionary biopsychosocial approach, can be mapped onto protest-despair and defeat-involuntary subordination mediators of low PA. A further discussion of the interaction between attachment and social rank can be found in Sloman et al. (2003).


As noted, dimensional processes can produce discontinuities; that is, sudden changes or shifts. One person responds to a love rejection with mild dysphoria, but in another person the rejection triggers a serious depression. Much depends on the state of 'the system' before a stressor is encountered. Although cognitive therapists are fond of concepts such as latent schema, these are only part of the story. System setters that are going to influence how a stressor affects a system can operate in multiple domains. System setters are, of course, vulnerability factors.

Having identified some evolved regulators of PA and NA (such as separation-abandonment, defeats, and entrapments) that show clear evolutionary continuities between animals and humans, we can now explore a range of vulnerability factors (or system setters) and consider how these relate to sensitivity to protest-despair and entrapped-defeat defences. We will also explore the way our evolved capacity for self-schema can interact with these evolved strategic defences.

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