BACKGROUND - Prosocial behaviors are essential to the ability to relate to others. Women typically display greater prosocial behavior than men. The impact of depression on prosocial behaviors and how gender interacts with those effects are not fully understood. We explored the role of gender in the potential effects of depression on prosocial behavior.
METHODS - We examined prosocial behaviors using a modified version of the Trust Game in a clinical population and community controls. Study participants were characterized on the severity of depression and anxiety, presence of suicidal ideation, history of childhood trauma, recent stressful life events, and impulsivity. We correlated behavioral outcomes with gender and clinical variables using analysis of variance and multiple regression analysis.
RESULTS - The 89 participants comprised four study groups: depressed women, depressed men, healthy women and healthy men (n = 16-36). Depressed men exhibited reciprocity more frequently than healthy men. Depression induced an inversion of the gender-specific pattern of self-centered behavior. Suicidal ideation was associated with increased reciprocity behavior in both genders, and enhancement of the effect of depression on gender-specific self-centered behavior.
CONCLUSIONS - Depression, particularly suicidal ideation, is associated with reversal of gender-specific patterns of prosocial behavior, suggesting abnormalities in sexual hormones regulation. This explanation is supported by known abnormalities in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal and hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal axes found in depression.