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The Importance of Psychosocial Factors in the Interpretation of Neural Findings

      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 (
      • Rice F.
      • Harold G.
      • Thapar A.
      The genetic aetiology of childhood depression: A review.
      ), 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 (
      • Jensen S.K.G.
      • Betancourt T.S.
      Recognizing the complexity of psychosocial factors associated with children’s development—the case of maternal depression.
      ). In particular, there has been longstanding interest in “depressogenic” parenting, with some studies detecting such effects as early as infancy (
      • Tronick E.
      • Reck C.
      Infants of depressed mothers.
      ). There is a consensus in the published literature that both genetic and psychosocial mechanisms are likely operational in the familial transmission of depression risk. Studies of risk transmission have also focused on whether endophenotypes for depression risk can be identified prior to clinical onset. In this domain, dampened neural response to reward has emerged as a well-replicated and promising marker. This is notable because this marker emphasizes impairments in the ability to experience positive affect rather than the overabundance of negative affect, a finding that underscores the need to consider the broader balance of alterations in emotional experience in depressive disorders.
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