Perinatal Sadness among Shuar Women: Support for an Evolutionary Theory of Psychic Pain

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Abstract

Psychiatry faces an internal contradiction in that it regards mild sadness and low mood as normal emotions, yet when these emotions are directed toward a new infant, it regards them as abnormal. We apply parental investment theory, a widely used framework from evolutionary biology, to maternal perinatal emotions, arguing that negative emotions directed toward a new infant could serve an important evolved function. If so, then under some definitions of psychiatric disorder, these emotions are not disorders. We investigate the applicability of parental investment theory to maternal postpartum emotions among Shuar mothers. Shuar mothers’ conceptions of perinatal sadness closely match predictions of parental investment theory.