What is understood about the causes of depression is often oversimplified in popular media descriptions. In doing so, theories about people’s biological makeup or so-called “nature” and their life experiences, “nurture” may be portrayed as opposing or distinct explanations and pitted against one another. Examples of this include overemphasizing that depression is caused by particular brain abnormalities a person inherits or that it is caused by major life changes. Indeed, both of these things have been associated with increased risk for depression. However, there is now widespread agreement among scientists these relationships are complex and that one’s biology can interact with life experiences in order to contribute to overall depression risk. Scientists are only beginning to understand the complex ways that biology and life experience interact. However, one example of this type of interaction is described below.
Caregiver Response to Children’s Temperament
Temperament can be thought of a person’s innate personality; For example, are people inherently more inclined to be shy or outgoing? Temperament is a relatively stable feature of personality that emerges early in infancy, is surprisingly stable across the lifespan and is heavily influenced by genetic factors. In addition, different types of temperament in infants and young children have been shown to elicit particular ways of responding from caregivers (Sroufe, 1985). For example, young children who are more fussy or have particular difficulty sleeping may elicit higher levels of frustration in responses by caregivers. By contrast, relatively easygoing children may tend to elicit higher amounts of affection and positive attention. Over time, the net impact of these caregiver interactions may contribute to differences in bonding and early life stress, both of which are associated with later risk for developing depression.
Sroufe, L. A. (1985). Attachment classification from the perspective of infant-caregiver relationships and infant temperament. Child Dev, 56(1), 1-14.