Maternal socialization, not biology, shapes child brain activity


Newswise – Philadelphia, March 23, 2022 – Children of mothers with clinical depression are three times more likely to develop depression themselves than their low-risk peers. Researchers are working to understand the neural underpinnings of risk, and some studies have shown impaired brain processing of reward in at-risk children as young as 6 years old. An open question remains as to whether children with a maternal history of depression have a biological predisposition. to a dulled neural response or whether it depends more on social factors. Now, new work reveals that these attenuated responses depended on maternal feedback, suggesting the latter.

The study appears in Biological psychiatry: cognitive neurosciences and neuroimagingedited by Elsevier.

Researchers have long observed changes in brain activity associated with depression in adults, particularly in an area of ​​the brain called the ventral striatum (VS), which is associated with motivation, pleasure, and goal-oriented behaviors. Goals. Similarly, several studies have shown that striatal responses to rewarding experiences are blunted in adolescent children of depressed parents, which predicts later development of depression. However, more recent work shows that these brain changes can appear well before adolescence, when the risk of depression generally increases.

For the current study, lead author Judith Morgan, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, recruited 49 children aged 6 to 8 with no history of psychiatric illness. Half of the children’s mothers had a history of clinical depression and the other 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).

Depression can impair parents’ ability for emotional socialization, a process by which children learn from their parents’ reactions to their emotional responses. Positive socializing responses include recognition, imitation, and elaboration, while negative or emotionally attenuating parenting responses can be dismissive, disabling, or punitive.

Mothers participating in the study completed a detailed questionnaire designed to measure parental emotional socialization by presenting a dozen situational vignettes of positive emotions in children and collecting parental reactions to them. Surprisingly, children with a maternal 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 attenuating responses to their children’s positive emotions, found. Researchers.

“In our study, the mothers’ history of depression was not related to impaired brain responses to reward in early school-aged children,” Dr. Morgan said. “Instead, this story only influenced the children’s brain responses in combination with the parenting behavior of the mothers, such as the ability to recognize, imitate or elaborate on the positive emotions of their child.”

“This is hopeful news because interventions aimed at coaching parents to encourage positive emotions in their children can have a powerful impact on child’s reward-related development, especially for families with children who may be at higher risk due to a family history of depression,” Dr. Morgan added.

Cameron Carter, MD, editor of Biological psychiatry: cognitive neurosciences and neuroimagingnoted,

“This important work provides an excellent example of how clinical neuroscience can reveal the neural mechanisms underlying depression and uncover new connections that may explain why one person has depression and another does not. These connections take us beyond clinical observation and therapy to open up new avenues (such as parenting interventions) for prevention that can promote resilience and well-being.

Notes for Editors
The article is “Maternal Response to Positive Affect Moderates the Impact of Familial Depression Risk on Ventral Striatal Response to Winning Reward in 6-8 Year Old Children”, by Judith Morgan, Kristen Eckstrand, Jennifer Silk , Thomas Olino, Cecile Ladouceur, Erika Forbes ( It appears as an article in Press in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, published by Elsevier.

Author affiliations and financial and conflict of interest disclosures are available in the article.

Cameron S. Carter, MD, is a professor of psychiatry and psychology and director of the Center for Neuroscience at the University of California, Davis. His financial information and conflict of interest disclosures are available here.

On Biological psychiatry: cognitive neurosciences and neuroimaging
Biological psychiatry: cognitive neurosciences and neuroimaging is an official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, whose purpose is to promote excellence in scientific research and education in fields that study the nature, causes, mechanisms, and treatments of thought disorders, emotions or behavior. Consistent with this mission, this international, peer-reviewed, rapid-release journal focuses on studies using the tools and constructs of cognitive neuroscience, including the full range of noninvasive neuroimaging and extra- and extra-physiological recording methodologies. human intracranial. It publishes basic and clinical studies, including those that incorporate genetic data, pharmacological challenges, and computational modeling approaches. The 2020 Impact Factor score for Biological psychiatry: cognitive neurosciences and neuroimaging is 6.204.

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