The evolution of selfschema

At this point, some readers might say, 'Yes, but even if we can understand animal depression in terms of primitive defences against abandonment, defeats, and harassments, we cannot apply these models to humans because we are a thinking, conceptualising species with complex cultures and meaning-making systems. Moreover, human depression is about self-awareness and self-conscious feelings such as shame and guilt.' To take this view is to misunderstand the evolved functions of self-conscious feelings. In fact, the capacity to develop self-conscious self-schema has arisen for evolutionary reasons. They are designed to serve certain functions—one of which is to regulate social behaviour in the competition for resources (Gilbert & McGuire, 1998).

Emotions such as rage/anger, fear/anxiety, sadness/despair, and joy/happiness (and their behavioural output systems, such as fight, flight, and approach) are often considered primary or basic emotions (Panksepp, 1998) and are the main components of our NA and PA systems (Clark, 2000). We share these emotions with many other animals. They can be elicited by simple threats and losses, and we know something of their evolutionary history (Nesse, 1998) and neurophysiology (Panksepp, 1998). Emotions such as shame, embarrassment, pride, and guilt are sometimes referred to as secondary, higher-order, or self-conscious emotions (Lewis, 1992; Tangney & Fischer, 1995). These emotions are indeed less shared (if at all) with animals, and are relatively new on the evolutionary stage, and we know much less about their neurophysiology (but see Schore, 2001). Self-conscious emotions may develop later than primary emotions and are dependent on various competencies (Zahn-Waxler, 2000). These competencies begin to unfold from around 2 years of age and include the ability to recognise the self as an object for others, theory of mind (ability to make judgements about what others are thinking), awareness of the ability for approval and disapproval, and ability for role taking and understanding social rules, and symbolic representations. However, although fairly new in evolution, these self-conscious competencies blend with primary emotions to give rise to self-conscious emotions of shame, pride, and guilt. Thus, a threat to the self as a social agent (such as shame) can recruit negative primary emotions (such as anxiety, anger, and disgust) and reduce positive emotions in various ways. Self-conscious emotions are key to the development of the self as a social agent and come to regulate social behaviour, and one's defences if abandoned, bullied, or defeated (Gilbert, 1998a).

Animals respond to signals in their environment and coordinate their behaviour via social-detection and output systems. They have little capacity for self-reflection, in part because they do not compete for symbolic indicators of status and investment from others and cannot work out detailed plans of how to present the self to others for good effect. Although chimpanzees can be cautious of a dominant animal and seek sexual opportunities, we have yet to find chimpanzees who wake in the morning wondering what to wear to impress a job interviewer or what to buy to impress a girlfriend on St Valentine's Day. Self-conscious awareness, however, is highly focused on how one exists in the eyes of others (the kind of emotions and feelings we think others have about us). It is built, in part at least, for self-presentation manipulations and reputation building (Leary, 1995). Such abilities and competencies allow us to build models of ourselves in relation to others, but the purpose of doing this is to compete for resources and achieve the same types of biosocial goals that other animals seek (such as good-quality alliances, sexual partners, and social success and acceptance).

Although many psychological researchers in depression believe that the two most salient schema underpinning depressions are related to schema for attachment loss (sense of unlov-ableness and abandonment sensitivity) and social defeat (feeling a loser or inferior) (e.g., Beck, 1987), such schema may reflect unconscious, evolved strategies. In fact, many human schemas probably have their origins in social signal-detection systems that enabled the decoding of social signals and coordinating of responses (to enact social roles) (Gilbert, 2000c). For example, even primitive reptiles adopt submissive postures in contexts of a dominant attack, or engage in courting displays to a potential mate. They do not need to 'know' they are doing this, let alone have any self-awareness of what they are doing or why. The human evolution of self-awareness and sense of self has given us opportunities to engage in social roles in a far more sophisticated way, but many basic role patterns are of old design (Gilbert, 1989; Gilbert & McGuire, 1998).

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