Year: 2022 Source: Evolution and Human Behavior. (2022). Published online 25 February 2022. SIEC No: 20220311

Mental health professionals generally view major depression and suicidality as pathological responses to stress that elicit aversive responses from others. An alternative hypothesis grounded in evolutionary theory contends that depression and suicidality are honest signals of need in response to adversity that can increase support from reluctant others when there are conflicts of interest. To test this hypothesis, we examined responses to emotional signals in a preregistered experimental vignette study involving claims of substantial need in the presence of conflicts of interest and private information about the signaler’s true level of need. In a sample of 1240 participants recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk, costlier signals like depression and suicidality increased perceptions of need, reduced perceptions of manipulativeness, and increased likelihood of support compared to simple verbal requests and crying without further symptoms. The effect of signaling on likelihood of support was largely mediated by the effect of signaling on participants’ belief that the signaler was genuinely in need. Our results support the hypothesis that depression and suicidality, apparent human universals, are credible signals of need that elicit more support than verbal requests, sad expressions, and crying when there are conflicts of interest.