Mental Health News
A study carried out by the research group, Elsevier, explored how a mother’s history of clinical depression and low maternal socialization increases the risk of depression in children. It is published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.
The researchers recruited 49 children—aged 6–8 years and without any history of psychiatric illness—to measure reward-related brain activity. The mothers of half of the participants had a history of clinical depression and the other half had no psychiatric history.
The children were asked to complete the Doors Task, a widely used reward guessing task. They played a video game in which they had to guess which of two doors contained a hidden token, and their brain activity was recorded using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The mothers of the participants were asked to complete an extensive questionnaire about parental emotion socialization and parenting habits, including their use of encouraging or dampening responses to their child’s displays of positive emotions.
The results from the study reveal that children of depressed moms showed reduced reward-related brain activity in the ventral striatum (VS) or the brain area related to motivation and pleasure. Consequently, these children appear to be at a high familial risk of depression, when compared to their peers who have neither maternal history of depression nor low reward-related brain activity in the VS.
Research has long established that striatal responses to rewarding experiences are blunted in children with parental histories of depression. Medical practitioners often use this marker to predict the development of depression in later years.
The current study refutes the claim that depression is genetically transmitted and establishes depressive symptoms as learned behavior. Maternal history of clinical depression doesn’t influence changes in brain structures or biological dispositions that make children vulnerable to depression. Instead, depressed moms tend to show less enthusiastic or dampening responses to their children’s positive emotions, and children replicate this behavior in their ability to acknowledge, imitate, or elaborate on positive emotions. This behavior affects their reward-related brain activity.
Towards Parenting Interventions
The researchers are enthusiastic that this study can take us beyond clinical observation and therapeutic techniques and look at new, more innovative avenues that promote resilience and psychological wellness in both parents and children.
In the words of one of the lead researchers, Dr. Morgan, this study can help devise “interventions geared at coaching parents to encourage positive emotions in their children [and aid] child reward-related development [in families with histories of mental illness].”
To Know More You May Refer To:
Morgan, Judith & Eckstrand, Kristen & Silk, Jennifer & Olino, Thomas & Ladouceur, Cecile & Forbes, Erika. (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. 10.1016/j.bpsc.2021.12.014.