Do Depressed Mothers Shape their Kids Behavior through Biology or Socialization?

What’s New in Psychology?

Do Depressed Mothers Shape their Kids Behavior through Biology or Socialization?

Jim Windell

            Children of mothers who are depressed are at greater risk of depression themselves.

            But why?

            Is it in the genes? Or is it related to parenting style? Or neither?

           Researchers have long been aware of changes in brain activity associated with depression in adults, particularly in a brain area called the ventral striatum (VS). The VS is associated with motivation, pleasure, and goal-directed behaviors. Also, several studies have shown striatal responses to rewarding experiences are blunted in adolescent children of depressed parents, and this blunting predicts later development of depression. However, more recent studies suggest that these brain changes can emerge long before the teenage years – a time when the risk for depression typically increases.

           A study that recently appeared in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging addresses the relationship between depressed mothers and children who are depressed.

           For this study, lead author Judith Morgan, Ph.D., at the University of Pittsburgh, recruited 49 children ages six to eight who were without a history of psychiatric illness. Half the kids' mothers had a history of clinical depression, and half had no psychiatric history. To measure reward-related brain activity, children played a video game in which they guessed which of two doors contained a hidden token while they underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

           The mothers participating in the study completed an extensive questionnaire designed to measure parental emotional socialization by presenting a dozen situational vignettes of children's displays of positive emotions and collecting parents' reactions to them. As it turns out, children with a maternal history of depression were more likely to have reduced reward-related brain activity in the VS, but only if their mothers reported less enthusiastic and more dampening responses to their children's positive emotions.

           Results of the research indicate that children of mothers with clinical depression are at three times greater risk to develop depression themselves than are their low-risk peers. But it is because, as some studies suggest, of altered brain processing of reward in at-risk children. This research, though, finds that dampened responses depended on maternal feedback.

           Maternal depression may disrupt a parent’s capacity for emotional socialization, a process by which kids learn from their parents' reactions to their emotional responses. Positive socialization responses include acknowledgment, imitation, and elaboration, whereas negative or emotionally dampening parental responses may be dismissive, invalidating, or punitive.

           According to Judith Morgan, “In our study, mothers' own history of depression by itself was not related to altered brain responses to reward in early school-age children. Instead, this history had an influence on children's brain responses only in combination with mothers' parenting behavior, such as the ability to acknowledge, imitate, or elaborate on their child's positive emotions.”

           Morgan went on to say that the findings of this study are hopeful. Interventions geared at coaching parents to encourage positive emotions in their children may have a powerful impact on child reward-related development, she said. “This is especially for families of children who may be at greater risk because of a family history of depression,” Morgan added.

          To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Morgan, J.K., Eckstrand, K.L., Silk, J.S., Olino, T.M., Ladouceur, C.D., & Forbes, E.E. (2022). Maternal Response to Positive Affect Moderates the Impact of Familial Risk for Depression on Ventral Striatal Response to Winning Reward in 6- to 8-Year-Old Children. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, DOI: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2021.12.014



Share this post:

Comments on "Do Depressed Mothers Shape their Kids Behavior through Biology or Socialization? "

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment