An Evolutionary Look at Suicide

In light of many gay teens committing suicide, research psychologist Jesse Bering examines the scientific and neurological underpinnings of suicide.

People are most likely to commit suicide when their direct reproductive prospects are discouraging and, simultaneously, their continued existence is perceived, whether correctly or incorrectly, as reducing inclusive fitness by interfering with their genetic kin’s reproduction. Importantly, deCatanzaro, as well as other independent researchers, have presented data that support this adaptive model.

In a 1995 study in Ethology and Sociobiology, for example, deCatanzaro administered a 65-item survey including questions about demographics (such as age, sex and education), number and degree of dependency of children, grandchildren, siblings and siblings’ children, “perceived burdensomeness” to family, perceived significance of contributions to family and society, frequency of sexual activity, stability/intimacy/success of relations to the opposite sex, homosexuality, number of friends, loneliness, treatment by others, financial welfare and physical health, feelings of contentment, depression, and looking forward to the future. Respondents were also asked about their suicidal thoughts and behaviors—for example, whether they had ever considered suicide, whether they had ever attempted it in the past, or ever intended to do so in the future. The survey was administered to a random sample of the general Ontario public, but also to theoretically targeted groups, including elderly people from senior citizen housing centers, psychiatric inpatients from a mental hospital, male inmates incarcerated indefinitely for antisocial crimes and, finally, exclusively gay men and women.

The entire piece is worth reading.

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