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

Published:January 28, 2022DOI:



      A growing body of research has demonstrated that adolescent offspring of depressed parents show diminished responding in the ventral striatum to reward. More recent work has suggested that altered reward responding may emerge earlier than adolescence in offspring at familial risk for depression, although factors associated with neural alterations in childhood remain poorly understood.


      We tested whether 6- to 8-year-old children, 49% at heightened risk for depression via maternal history, showed altered neural responding to winning reward. We evaluated whether maternal socialization of positive emotion moderated the association between familial risk and child neural response to reward. Participants were 49 children 6 to 8 years of age (24 with a maternal history of recurrent or chronic depression, 25 with no maternal history of any psychiatric disorder). Children underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while completing the Doors Guessing Task, a widely used reward guessing task. Mothers reported their use of encouraging and dampening responses to child positive affect.


      Findings demonstrated that children at high familial risk for depression showed lower ventral striatum responding to winning reward relative to low-risk children, but only when mothers used less encouragement or greater dampening responses to their child’s positive emotion expressions.


      Neural reward alterations in the ventral striatum may emerge earlier than previously thought, as early as 6 to 8 years of age, specifically in the context of maternal discouragement of child positive emotions. Clinical interventions that focus on coaching mothers on how to encourage child positive emotions may be beneficial for supporting child reward-related brain development.


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      Linked Article

      • The Importance of Psychosocial Factors in the Interpretation of Neural Findings
        Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and NeuroimagingVol. 7Issue 8
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          The familial transmission of depression is well established in the scientific literature, so the presence of a family history is an important consideration in any clinical evaluation for depression. However, what remains less clear is how this disorder is transmitted from parent to child. While genetic heritability has been suggested by numerous twin studies, it is clear that many ambiguities remain (1), resulting in less progress in identifying an underlying genetic risk profile. There is also substantial published literature providing evidence for the role of psychosocial mechanisms of transmission (2).
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