Maternal major depression and synchrony of facial affect during mother-child interactions.

Maternal history of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) dramatically increases children’s risk for developing depression, highlighting the critical need for further research on the specific processes involved in the intergenerational transmission of depression. Although previous research suggests that maternal depression may adversely affect the quality of mother—child interactions, less is known about the role of maternal MDD in the moment-to-moment changes in affect that occur during these interactions. The goal of this project, therefore, was to examine synchrony of facial displays of affect during a positive (Vacation Planning) and a negative (Issues Discussion) mother—child interaction, and how this synchrony may be impacted by maternal history of MDD. In doing so, we examined both concurrent and lagged synchrony of facial affect. We recruited 341 mother—child dyads (child average age = 9.30 years; 50.1% girls; 71.6% Caucasian) with and without a maternal history of MDD. Facial electromyography (EMG), continuously recorded during those tasks, was used to index mother and child facial affect. We found that a maternal history of MDD was associated with reduced concurrent synchrony and lagged synchrony (mother facial affect predicting changes in child facial affect) of positive affect during Vacation Planning. Reduced concurrent mother—child synchrony of positive affect during the discussion was also associated with an increase in child self-reported sad affect from before to after the discussion. These findings provide promising initial evidence for how the dynamic exchange of positive affect during mother—child interactions may be disrupted in families with maternal MDD history. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)