Maternal depression and the nature of mother-toddler interaction: infant bids for engagement and maternal responsiveness
Research indicates that children of depressed parents are at heightened risk for emotional and behavioral difficulties, especially affective disorders. However, the processes by which such psychopathology develops are not well understood. Hypotheses include transmission of genetic vulnerability, prenatal effects, and the parenting behavior of depressed parents. While research has investigated behavioral interaction between depressed mothers and young infants (0--6 mos.), little is known regarding interaction between depressed mothers and toddler-aged children. The focus of the current investigation was to characterize the behavior of depressed mothers and toddlers, in a context in which important aspects of their relationship would be drawn out. Mothers and infants engaged in a divided attention task with mothers completing an open-ended questionnaire about their adjustment to the birth of their child, while monitoring their toddler's play. The divided attention paradigm diminished ongoing interaction, highlighting the process by which toddlers gained their mother's attention, as well as mother's responses. The sample was comprised of 142 primarily Caucasian, middle class mothers and their 14--15 month olds. A coding system was developed, and videotaped recordings of the interactions were reliably coded. The main effects of depression to emerge were generally consistent with prior research indicating depressed mothers and children are more negative in interaction with each other, with depressed mothers expressing more negative affect, intrusiveness, and disengaging responses, and toddlers expressing more negative affect. In addition, a distinct pattern emerged indicating severity and chronicity of maternal depression to be associated with different patterns of responsiveness and emotional expression between mothers and daughters versus sons. The greater the mother's depression, the more responsive she became to daughters, and the more aggression daughters exhibited. In contrast, the greater the mother's depression, the less responsive she became to sons, the more negative feedback she expressed, and the less aggression sons exhibited. These findings suggest daughters and sons are at differential risk with respect to the behavioral manifestations of their mother's depression. This study provides insight regarding patterns of interaction between depressed mothers and toddlers, and provides clues regarding behavioral processes involved in the intergenerational transmission of depression.
- Psychology