Why Russians Don’t Get Depressed

It’s long been observed that while depression has some universal qualities, its effects can vary by culture and society (not to mention individuals). As the study of psychology becomes more globalized, it’s important to explore how different groups handle their depression and what we can learn from them.

Russians would make an interesting case study, given the stereotypes about their dourness and cynicism (not to mention their infamously high rate of suicide, alcoholism, and other  psycho-social problems). Consider the conclusion of these experiments reported in Wired (the details of which you can read in the link):

Here’s where the cultural differences became clear.* When Russians engaged in brooding self-analysis, they were much more likely to engage in self-distancing, or looking at the past experience from the detached perspective of someone else. Instead of reliving their confused and visceral feelings, they reinterpreted the negative memory , which helped them make sense of it. According to the researchers, this led to significantly less “emotional distress” among the Russian subjects. (It also made them less likely to blame another person for the event.) Furthermore, the habit of self-distancing seemed to explain the striking differences in depressive symptoms between Russian and Americans. Brooding wasn’t the problem. Instead, it was brooding without self-distance. Here’s Grossman and Kross:

“Our results highlighted a psychological mechanism that explains these cultural differences: Russians self-distance more when analyzing their feelings than Americans do. These findings add to a growing body of research demonstrating that it is possible for people to reflect either adaptively or maladaptively over negative experiences. In addition, they extend previous findings cross-culturally by highlighting the role that self-distancing plays in determining which type of self-reflection—the adaptive or maladaptive one—different cultures engage in.”

Now obviously, this observation doesn’t apply to every Russian – it’s never good to generalize. But regardless of how prevalent this technique is, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to explore its benefits.

2 comments on “Why Russians Don’t Get Depressed

  1. This is very interesting, and thought-provoking.

    America is a young a prosperous country. Collectively we haven’t had a lot of experience learning how to deal with The Way Things Are. Americans are taught to expect a lot from life, that’s part of the culture at large, when things don’t go our way we taught to take our failures very personally. This can make for more depression, more despair. Just a thought. Distanced reflections comes from seeing the bigger picture, seeing the actual size of oneself within that expansive frame. In general, Americans are taught to see themselves as consuming the whole of that frame, it’s all about the close-up. The fun part about everything being about you is that it is gratifying, the way cake is gratifying. The downside is, it’s a lie and really inhibits psychological maturation. The capacity for distanced-reflection is a product of maturation, on the one hand it is sobering, but it is useful in helping a person tolerate reality and the distress that often accompanies it.

  2. Pingback: Sunday Link Roundup | Brute Reason

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