New Research Explores Depression and Gender-Based Risk Taking

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Two newly published student-faculty research papers, conducted as part of Colgate’s Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative and funded by the Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute, peel back some of the mysteries related to depression in young adults and help to disprove preconceived notions of gender-based risk taking.

In vivo molecular chronotyping, circadian misalignment, and high rates of depression in young adults (Full journal article)

What is behind the disproportionate number of depression and mental disorders among young people compared to adults?

Research by three Colgate graduates — Chi Nguyen ’18, Gillian Murray ’18, and Sarah Anderson ’18 — alongside Cornell Professor Allan Filipowicz and Colgate Associate Professor of Biology and Chair of the Biology Department Krista Ingram, examines how misalignment in the regulation of day and night behavioral cycles (circadian rhythm) impacts symptoms associated with depression in young people.

The researchers screened 528 individuals for their sleep-wake cycles, selecting 130 who showed identifiable circadian misalignment. Those participants were then placed into groups based on their morning and night preference (larks and night owls), and participants were screened for symptoms of depression. Gene analysis of hair follicles was also conducted at several points to clearly understand each participant’s chronotype as they relate to sleep cycles.

Researchers found depression scores in young adults with delayed circadian misalignment, compared to those without misalignment, and night owls with these issues are 20 times more likely to be depressed compared to the control.

“Our study validates previous theoretical predictions of circadian effects on mood disorders and highlights a critical, hidden risk factor affecting mood in young adults — circadian disruption,” the article reads.

Chronotype mediates gender differences in risk propensity and risk-taking (Full journal article)

The common myth that men are bigger risk takers than women might need some revision thanks to new research by Beckman Scholar Rebecca Gowen ’19, Ingram, and Filipowicz.

Their research is published in the journal PLOS One, and helps to debunk at least part of the myth with the help of 610 participants grouped by larks and night owls.

Results showed that males had a greater propensity for taking more risks overall, but showed no difference when it came to their day/night chronotype. Female participants, however, showed greater risk-taking propensity if they were in the evening-type group.

They also found that trait anxiety and sleep disturbance both correlate with chronotype and gender, but do not necessarily predict differences in risk-taking for females. Meanwhile, morning-type and intermediate-type (mid-day) females showed more risk aversion than other participants.

“Understanding how variation among individual daily behavioral rhythms or chronotypes affects diverse human behaviors, from decision-making to mood, is not only an exciting way to measure complex gene by environment interactions, but also has practical implications — allowing us to design more efficient therapeutic and prevention measures for behavioral and mood disorders,” Ingram said.