Depression is the most Common Mental
Depression is the most common mental disorder and a common cause of disability (Sjoberg et al., 2017). Niles, Smirnova, Lin, and O’Donovan (2018) stated that depression disorders can affect nearly 30% of the population at some point in their life. Despite how common depression is, there is still a well known stigma related to depression and other mental illnesses.
For example, people with a mental illness are commonly viewed as less capable and intelligent, compared to the average mentally stable individual (Burke, Wang, and Dovidio 2014). Related to gender differences, men have been weakly associated with worse depressive and anxiety symptoms compared to women, who have been weakly associated with depressive symptoms, but not anxiety (Niles et al., 2018). Men are more likely to express sympathy to a female who is displaying depressive symptoms and to label it as more distressing (Swami, 2012). Swami (2012) conducted a studied that demonstrated the concept that gender roles, shape the attitude toward depression, which related men to the stronger role compared to women.
Depression itself is a serious, chronic illness, which can result in permanent impairment of the biological system (Pallavi et al., 2013). More specifically, depression in adolescent causes cell death and inflammation in the brain (Pallavi et al., 2013). The transformation during the adolescent stage is a critical period to develop networking in the brain (Pallavi et al., 2013). Meaning, if an individual was diagnosed with adolescent depression, they are more likely to experience cognitive impairment when they are older.
In regards to gender differences, Sun, Niu, You, Zhou, and Tang (2017) stated that gender has been proven to be a critical factor of depression. There is also gender difference in the vulnerability to depression (Sun et al., 2017). There are several other factors that associate with depression such as, self-esteem, cognitive distortion, interpersonal relationships, and family environment (Sun et al., 2017). Pallavi et al. (2013) introduced their own gender analysis.
The female subjects of their experiment showed noticeably higher trait scores on the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) test, compared to the male subjects (Pallavi et al., 2013). When compared to adolescent depression and gender differences, it was found that evaluation scores were decreased in the male and female subjects that suffered from depression, compared to the healthy subjects (Pallavi et al., 2013). Pallavi et al. (2013) stated that their neurotrophic study showed females had drastically lower scores than the corresponding males. However, Cashdan & Gaulin (2016) stated that different analysis of sex differences in spatial cognition are considered. For example, in several species there have been reports of different behaviors across the two genders (Cashdan & Gaulin, 2016). These findings have caused many controversies in the field of research.
In regards to spatial cognition, DeIpolyi, Rankin, Mucke, Miller, and Gorno-Tempini (2007) stated that if an individual has an impairment in another cognitive domain, it cannot determine if they have trouble navigating or not. DeIpolyi et al. (2007) conducted a study to test the hypothesis that a disability that affects an individuals navigation, reflects impairments in spatial cognition.
Morris (1981) concluded that there is a distinction between a direction strategy and a location strategy, in regards to spatial localization. Even though Morris conducted the Water Maze using rats, his results can be compared to Hamilton and Sutherland’s results. For example, Morris (1981) stated that an important finding from his experiment is evidence of spatial mapping. Spatial mapping represents knowledge about an environment and makes it possible to identify one location from another in a familiar environment (Morris 1981). Morris (1981) made the claim about behavioral flexibility. Spatial mapping permits behavioral flexibility (Morris 1981).
In connection with spatial mapping, Hamilton and Sutherland (1999) suggested that associative learning principles are performing in the human spatial mapping system. By using the Virtual Morris Water Maze, Hamilton and Sutherland (1999) were able to conclude that humans are competent of acquiring the ability to navigate to a specific place in a virtual setting, using distal cues. There has been a demonstration of blocking in human place learning (Hamilton & Sutherland, 1999). However, there is potential for a problem to occur. Hamilton and Sutherland (1999) stated that their is a fundamental concern if virtual place learning is similar to real-world place learning.
Syal et al. (2014) stated that there is a lack of spatial cognition data from human adult’s with past trauma experiences. These past trauma experiences may include past depression. Syal et al. (2014) suggests that focusing on the relationships between gender and trauma in regards to cognitive performances, could provide more insight and data on why trauma has a more positive impact on males spatial cognition performance, compared to females.
Trauma, specifically childhood trauma, has an effect on an adult’s spatial cognition performance (Syal et al., 2014). Syal et al. (2014) conducted a study where the samples were grouped based on their gender and past trauma experiences. To improve the accuracy of their results, Syal et al. (2014) balanced their trauma groups in regards to gender, which allowed the observation of the interactions between trauma and gender while the subjects performed the different tasks to measure their spatial cognition performance. The results of this study suggested that men that have experienced trauma in their childhood performed significantly better on spatial cognition tasks, compared to women who completed the same spatial cognition tasks (Syal et al., 2014). When the participants of this study were given multiple tests to analyze their spatial cognitive performance, their results were dependent on their gender (Syal et al., 2014). More specifically, trauma may have a more positive impact on males spatial cognition performance, compared to females (Syal et al., 2014).
Woolley et al. (2010) conducted the Virtual Morris Water Maze on their sample grouped, based on gender. Higher success rates and faster trial times in the Virtual Morris Water Maze were demonstrated with male participants, compared to female participants (Woolley et al., 2010). Woolley et al. (2010) also demonstrated the result of males performing better on their overall task performance during training. For example, they found the platform faster and more frequently in the Virtual Morris Water Maze, compared to females. Also, males demonstrated faster trial times and higher success rates, compared to women who performed the same tasks (Woolley et al., 2010). Woolley et al. (2010) supported the evidence that gender has an effect on spatial cognition performance. Woolley et al. (2010) suggests that researchers should look more into the behavioral expressions between the two genders, to receive more data on why males perform better than women on spatial cognition tasks.
Devan et al. (2002) conducted an experiment to study the individual differences in the control of navigational behavior in the Water Maze by comparing place learning measurements in one environment, to latent learning measurements on the goal in a novel environment. The two studies can be compared based on their results. Since the results were moderated by gender, the effect trauma has on performance of spatial tasks (Syal et al. 2014) can be related back to the difference in trial times and success rates of the Virtual Morris Water Maze, based on gender (Woolley et al., 2010).
In this present study, a 2 x 2 design, Gender (Male versus Female) x Depression (moderate levels versus severe levels) has been performed to test the effect of the relationship between mental health and gender on spatial cognitive performance in human adult participants. The hypothesis of this study is that the males with higher levels of depression will perform significantly better on the Virtual Morris Water Maze, compared to females with high levels of depression and males with lower levels of depression. If gender and past trauma affect spatial cognition, then this could be a part of how an individual has coped with their past trauma. Their coping strategies may be differentiated based on their gender.