Children of mothers with clinical depression are three times more likely to develop depression themselves than their low-risk peers, a new study shows.
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Children of mothers with clinical depression are three times more likely to develop depression themselves than their low-risk peers, a new study shows. The study is in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.
Researchers have long observed changes in brain activity associated with depression in adults, particularly in a brain region called the ventral striatum, which is associated with motivation, pleasure and goal-directed behavior. Likewise, several studies have shown that adolescent children of depressed parents have a blunted striatal response to reward experiences, which predicts later development of depression. However, recent research suggests that these brain changes may occur before the teenage years, when the risk of depression typically rises.
For the current study, lead author Dr. Judith Morgan of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania recruited 49 children aged 6 to 8 with no history of mental illness. Half of the children’s mothers had a history of clinical depression and half had no history of mental illness. To measure reward-related brain activity, the children played a video game in which they had to guess which of two doors contained hidden markings while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Depression disrupts parents’ emotional and social skills, and in the process, children learn from their parents’ responses to their emotional reactions. Positive socialization responses include recognition, imitation, and elaboration, while negative or emotional parental responses may be dismissive, degrading, or punitive.
Mothers participating in the study completed an extensive questionnaire designed to measure parental emotional socialization by presenting more than a dozen situational vignettes about their children’s positive emotions and collecting parental responses to them. The researchers found strikingly that children whose mothers had a history of depression were more likely to have reduced reward-related brain activity in VS, but only if their mothers reported less enthusiastic and more inhibitory responses to the child’s positive emotions . “In our study, the mother’s history of depression itself was not associated with altered brain responses to reward in school-aged children,” said Dr. Morgan.
“In contrast, this history only had an effect on the child’s brain responses when combined with the mother’s parenting behaviors