More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Space research finds culture influences depression susceptibility
September 14, 2007

Research conducted on the International Space Station by scientists of the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems and the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) has found that Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts get tired differently.

For Americans, fatigue and depression are two different independent states, while for the Russians, they make up two indivisible parts of a single asthenic syndrome. The researchers believe that this phenomenon is based on fundamental cultural differences between Russians and Americans.

Vadim Gushin from the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow and his American colleagues Jennifer Boyd, Nick Kanas and Stephanie Saylor from UCSF assumed that peculiarities of cosmonauts' and astronauts' mood should depend on the cultural peculiarities of representatives of different societies.

Russian physicians believe that in the medical syndrome asthenia, depression and fatigue come simultaneously. In the US physicians assumed depression and fatigue are two different, unconnected syndromes. The researchers predicted that the consequence of this difference in views of the Russian and U.S. physicians would be a real difference in stress and fatigue symptoms between the Russian cosmonauts and U.S. astronauts.

The researchers analyzed the state of Russian and American staff at the International Space Station during the course of a lengthy space assignment. The observation findings confirmed the prediction: Russian cosmonauts demonstrated symptoms of asthenia, i.e. fatigue and depression together, while for the US astronauts, fatigue and depression were not interconnected.

The discovery should foster a better understanding of the psychology of relationships in space collectives and help prepare crews psychologically for extended space missions such as an international expedition to Mars.

The study also reaffirms the importance of culture in psychological perceptions and that this must be considered when treating patients from differing backgrounds.

Source: Boyd JE, Kanas N, Gushin VI, Saylor S. Cultural differences in patterns of mood states on board the International Space Station. Acta Astronautica, 2007 Oct;61(7-8):668-71 [Abstract]

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I found this article interesting but I think the conclusion is wrong.

I don't think it's a matter of cultural or even language differences infliuencing vulnerability to depression per se. I think it's a living, breathing example of cognitive labeling or cognitive interpretation of affect in action.

Many people mislabel the adrenalin rush of preparation for action (e.g., in athletic performance) as anxiety or fear. Similarly, in my experience, clinically as well as in my personal experience, many people have difficulty distinguishing between feeling exhausted and feeling depressed. But we know that once we label something as anxiety or depression, we tend to reinforce and encourage that cognitive conclusion until we actually become the state we have defined via cognitive labeling.

Any cultural differences probably act by encouraging certain types of cognitive labeling. For example, in western socieites, from a very early age, men are discouraged from "giving into feelings", expressing feelings, even acknowledging feelings - William Pollock says that by the time many or nmost boys reach their teens they have learned to hide feelings even from themselves and don't even possess a vocabulary for indentifying feelings. Thus, they are encouraged to interpretation feelings, especially ambiguous emotional states, as physical symptoms. This is particularly true of athletes and in certain other highly competitive professions (the military, pilots, astronauts). Many European cultures are far more enlightened in this respect and encourage boys and men not only to feel but to express their feelings openly.

I know by now that I can't always tell the difference between a certain type of exhaustion and depression. Consequently, I've developed my own "remedy" or hypothesis testing strategy: When I feel that way, I go to bed early and try to get a good night's sleep. If I wake up the next morning rested and the feeling has gone away, I know it wa exhaustion and not depression.
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