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The Evolutionary Origins of Mood and Its Disorders

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Daniel Nettle, Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD


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The term 'mood' in its scientific usage refers to relatively enduring affective states that arise when negative or positive experience in one context or time period alters the individual's threshold for responding to potentially negative or positive events in subsequent contexts or time periods. The capacity for mood appears to be phylogenetically widespread and the mechanisms underlying it are highly conserved in diverse animals, suggesting it has an important adaptive function. In this review, we discuss how moods can be classified across species, and what the selective advantages of the capacity for mood are. Core moods can be localised within a two-dimensional continuous space, where one axis represents sensitivity to punishment or threat, and the other, sensitivity to reward. Depressed mood and anxious mood represent two different quadrants of this space. The adaptive function of mood is to integrate information about the recent state of the environment and current physical condition of the organism to fine-tune its decisions about the allocation of behavioural effort. Many empirical observations from both humans and non-human animals are consistent with this model. We discuss the implications of this adaptive approach to mood systems for mood disorders in humans.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Nettle D, Bateson M

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Current Biology

Year: 2012

Volume: 22

Issue: 17

Pages: R712-R721

Print publication date: 11/09/2012

ISSN (print): 0960-9822

ISSN (electronic): 1879-0445

Publisher: CELL PRESS


DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.06.020