March 30, 2011

Scientific Proof: When Mama Ain't Happy, Nobody's Happy

It's no secret that someone's depression can drastically affect intimate relationships.  Now, scientists are identifying specific ways depression can impact a relationship -- especially when the woman is the one with the blues.
A new study that will be be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, shows that depression can actually hinder someone's ability to empathize, which only accentuates feelings of alienation and depression.
The three Israeli researchers who conducted the study - Reuma Gadassi and Nilly Mor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Eshkol Rafaeli at Bar-Ilan University - were also curious how gender played a role. What they found was something they call the "partner effect.” Gadassi, a psychology graduate student, said, “Women’s depression affects their own [empathetic] accuracy. But it also affected their partner’s accuracy."

The researchers studied 50 couples.  First, they each answered a questionnaire about levels of personal depression. Then, the couples' discussions were videotaped.  The couples watched the tapes and analyzed the thoughts, feelings, and expressions of themselves and their partners.
After that, each participant kept a journal listing their moods, feelings, and assessed their own thoughts about their partner's moods.

What the researchers found was that the more depressed the female was, the less likely she was to accurately guess her partner's feelings.  Not only that, her partner also became less empathetic.

However, when the male was depressed, it didn't seem to affect his own "empathetic accuracy."

So the researchers believe a woman's depression actually has a greater impact on both individuals in the relationship.  
"You can’t understand depression without taking account of gender,” said Gadassi.  “Bringing only the depressed woman into therapy is not enough,” she says. “You really have to have both partners in the room."

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