An exploration of competitiveness and caring in relation to psychopathology

Kirsten McEwan, Paul Gilbert, Joana Duarte

Forskningsoutput: TidskriftsbidragArtikel i vetenskaplig tidskriftPeer review


Objectives. Social mentality theory outlines how specialist systems have evolved to facilitate different types of social behaviour such as caring for offspring, forming alliances, and competing for resources. This research explored how different types of self-experience are linked to the different social mentalities of competitive social ranking (focusing on gaining and defending one's social position/status/rank) in contrast to caring (being helpful to others). Perceived low social rank (with feelings of being inferior and unfavourable social comparison, SC) has been linked to depression, but a caring sense of self has less so. We hypothesized therefore that depression, in both clinical and non-clinical populations, would be primarily linked to competitive and rank focused sense of self rather than a caring sense of self. Method. Students (N= 312) and patients with depression (N= 48) completed self-report scales measuring: self-experience related to competitiveness and caring; social rank; social safeness; and depression, anxiety, and stress. Results. The data suggest that in students, and particularly in patients, competitiveness (and feeling unsuccessful in competing for resources) is strongly associated with depression. Although caring shares a small correlation with depression in students, and with depression, anxiety, and stress in patients, when controlling for the rank variable of submissive behaviour this relationship ceases to be significant. Submissive behaviour was found to be a full mediator between caring and depression. We also found that how safe and comfortable one feels in one's social relationships (social safeness), was a full mediator between competitiveness and depression. So, it is the feeling of being unable to compete where one does not feel secure in one's social environment that is particularly linked to depression. Conclusion. The results of this study suggest that self-experience is complex and multifaceted and is linked to different social roles that are socially contextualized. In addition, perceived low social rank and perceived failures in being able to 'attract' others and compete for social resources, are strongly linked to depression, whereas experiencing oneself as caring and helpful is not when submissiveness is controlled for.

Sidor (från-till)19-36
Antal sidor18
TidskriftBritish Journal of Clinical Psychology
StatusPublished - 2012 mars
Externt publiceradJa

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ)

  • Psykologi


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