Depressed moms not 'in sync' with their children

May 5, 2016, Binghamton University
Brandon Gibb, professor of psychology at Binghamton University and director of the Mood Disorders Institute and Center for Affective Science. Credit: Jonathan Cohen/Binghamton University

Mothers with a history of depression are not physiologically "in sync" with their kids, according to a new study from Binghamton University. While researchers have known for a while that depression is associated with interpersonal problems with others, this is the first study to examine whether this is also evident physiologically.

"When people are interacting, sometimes you just feel like you're in sync with somebody, and you know the interaction is going really well and you're enjoying the conversation. We're trying to figure out, at the body level, in terms of your physiology, do you see this synchrony in moms and their kids, and then how is that impacted by depression?" said Brandon Gibb, professor of psychology at Binghamton University and director of the Mood Disorders Institute and Center for Affective Science.

Binghamton researchers measured , a of social engagement, in children aged 7-11 and their (44 with a history of depression, 50 with no history of depression) while they engaged in positive and negative discussions. In the first discussion, mother-child pairs planned a dream vacation together; in the second discussion, pairs addressed a recent topic of conflict between them (e.g. homework, using the TV or computer, being on time, problems at school, lying, etc.) While moms with no history of depression displayed physiological synchrony (similar increases or decreases in heart rate variability) as their children during negative discussion, depressed moms were not in sync with their children. Furthermore, children and mothers who were more sad during the interaction were more likely to be out of sync with one another. According to researchers, these results provide preliminary evidence that synchrony during interactions is disrupted at the physiological level in families with a history of and may be a potential risk factor for the intergenerational transmission of depression.

"We found that mothers who had no history of depression were really matching their children's physiology in the moment," said graduate student and lead author of the study Mary Woody. "We saw most moment-to-moment matching in the conflict discussion, in which they were talking about something negative going on in their life. In this difficult discussion, we're seeing this protective physiological mechanism coming out. Whereas, with mothers with a history of and their kids, we're seeing the opposite—they actually mismatched. As one person is getting more engaged, the other person is pulling away. So they were really missing each other in that moment and walking away from the discussion feeling sad."

Explore further: Pupil response predicts depression risk in kids

More information: Mary L. Woody et al, Synchrony of physiological activity during mother-child interaction: moderation by maternal history of major depressive disorder, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (2016). DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12562 Mary L. Woody et al. Synchrony of physiological activity during mother-child interaction: moderation by maternal history of major depressive disorder, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (2016). DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12562

Related Stories

Pupil response predicts depression risk in kids

July 7, 2015
How much a child's pupil dilates in response to seeing an emotional image can predict his or her risk of depression over the next two years, according to new research from Binghamton University.

Attention to angry faces can predict future depression

June 16, 2015
Up to 80 percent of individuals with a past history of depression will get depressed again in the future. However, little is known about the specific factors that put these people at risk. New research suggests that it may ...

Mothers with postnatal depression reluctant to have more than two children

March 15, 2016
Mothers who have postnatal depression are unlikely to have more than two children according to research carried out by evolutionary anthropologists the University of Kent and published by Evolution, Medicine and Public Health.

Oxytocin level in pregnancy predicts postpartum depression severity

March 23, 2016
Higher oxytocin levels in the third trimester of pregnancy predicts the severity of postpartum depression symptoms in women who previously suffered from depression, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

New parenting program benefits ADHD children

May 24, 2013
A new program for treating the emotional health of mothers of children with ADHD has shown significant benefits for the children themselves, finds a new study by University of Maryland researchers. The program combines treatment ...

Study shows helping pregnant moms with depression doesn't help kids

June 2, 2015
A long-term study of mother-child pairs in Pakistan has found that the children turn out pretty much the same, whether or not their mothers received treatment for depression during pregnancy.

Recommended for you

College roommates underestimate each other's distress, new psychology research shows

February 19, 2018
College roommates are sensitive to their roommates' distress but tend to underestimate the level of distress being experienced by others, finds a newly published study from New York University psychology researchers.

New approaches in neuroscience show it's not all in your head

February 16, 2018
Our own unique experiences shape how we view the world and respond to the events in our lives. But experience is highly subjective. What's distressing or joyful to one person may be very different to another.

Link between hallucinations and dopamine not such a mystery, finds study

February 16, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) found that people with schizophrenia who experience auditory hallucinations tend to hear what they expect, ...

People find comfort listening to the same songs over and over, study finds

February 16, 2018
With the frequency that some people play their favorite song, it's a good thing vinyl records aren't used often because they might wear out.

Ketamine found to reduce bursting in brain area reducing depression quickly

February 15, 2018
A team of researchers at Zhejiang University in China has found that the drug ketamine reduces neuronal bursting in the lateral habenula (LHb) brain region, reducing symptoms of depression in rodent models. In their paper ...

Evidence shows pets can help people with mental health problems

February 15, 2018
The study of 17 research papers by academics at the Universities of Manchester, Southampton and Liverpool, concludes that pets can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.