Depression can erode all intimate relationships; a depressed person can be withdrawn, needy or hostile. The mental condition also impairs what psychologists call “empathic accuracy” – and that can exacerbate alienation, depression and the cycle by which they feed each other.
But Israeli researchers have found that it can affect one gender differently than the other.
Three Israeli researchers – Reuma Gadassi and Nilly Mor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Eshkol Rafaeli at Bar-Ilan University – wanted to better understand these dynamics in relationships, particularly the role of gender. Their study has been published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The study revealed a surprising dynamic: “It’s called the partner effect,” said Gadassi, a psychology graduate student. She explained that “women’s depression affects their own accuracy. But it also affected their partner’s accuracy”– in both cases, negatively. Fifty heterosexual couples – some married, some cohabiting for an average of about five years – participated in the study. First, a questionnaire assessed their levels of depression. Then, their interpersonal perceptions were tested both in the lab and in daily life. In the lab, the couples were videotaped during a 12-minute conversation in which one sought help from the other.
Halfway through, they switched roles – the requester of help became the helper. Afterwards, the individuals watched the tapes and wrote about their own thoughts and feelings and those of their partners. The reports were assessed for similarities and differences between each person’s perceptions and the other’s self-descriptions.