Associations between parenting behavior and neural processing of adolescent faces in mothers with and without depression



      This study examined how mothers with and without depression differ in neural activation in response to adolescents’ affective faces. Secondly, it examined the extent to which these neural activation patterns are related to observed positive and aggressive parenting behavior.


      Mothers with and without depression (based on self-reported symptoms and treatment history; N=77 and N=64, respectively; Mage=40 years) from low-income families completed an interaction task with their adolescents (Mage=12.8 years), which was coded for parents’ aggressive and positive affective behavior. During fMRI, mothers viewed blurry, happy, sad, and angry faces of unfamiliar adolescents, with the instruction to either label the emotion or determine the clarity of the image.


      The depression group showed less activation in the posterior midcingulate than the control group while labeling happy faces. Higher activation in the insula and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) were related to less positive parenting behavior. Ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activation (vlPFC) was most pronounced when labeling negative emotions, but stronger vlPFC response to happy faces was associated with more aggressive parenting behavior.


      This demonstrates the association between parents’ neural responses to adolescent faces and their behavior during interactions with their own adolescents, with relatively low insula and dmPFC activation supporting positive parenting and affect-dependent response in the vlPFC being important to limit aggressive behavior.


      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      1. Goodman SH, Simon HFM, Shamblaw AL, Kim CY (2020): Parenting as a Mediator of Associations between Depression in Mothers and Children’s Functioning: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev 23: 427–460.

      2. Schwartz OS, Byrne ML, Simmons JG, Whittle S, Dudgeon P, Yap MBH, et al. (2014): Parenting During Early Adolescence and Adolescent-Onset Major Depression: A 6-Year Prospective Longitudinal Study. Clinical Psychological Science 2: 272–286.

      3. Ertel KA, Rich-Edwards JW, Koenen KC (2011): Maternal Depression in the United States: Nationally Representative Rates and Risks. Journal of Women’s Health 20: 1609–1617.

      4. Sheeber LB, Johnston C, Chen M, Leve C, Hops H, Davis B (2009): Mothers’ and fathers’ attributions for adolescent behavior: An examination in families of depressed, subdiagnostic, and nondepressed youth. Journal of Family Psychology 23: 871–881.

      5. Bistricky SL, Ingram RE, Atchley RA (2011): Facial affect processing and depression susceptibility: cognitive biases and cognitive neuroscience. Psychol Bull 137: 998–1028.

      6. Luebbe AM, Fussner LM, Kiel EJ, Early MC, Bell DJ (2013): Role of adolescent and maternal depressive symptoms on transactional emotion recognition: context and state affect matter. Emotion 13: 1160–1172.

      7. Fusar-Poli P, Placentino A, Carletti F, Landi P, Allen P, Surguladze S, et al. (2009): Functional atlas of emotional faces processing: a voxel-based meta-analysis of 105 functional magnetic resonance imaging studies. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN 34: 418–32.

      8. Sabatinelli D, Fortune EE, Li Q, Siddiqui A, Krafft C, Oliver WT, et al. (2011): Emotional perception: Meta-analyses of face and natural scene processing. NeuroImage 54: 2524–2533.

      9. Costafreda SG, Brammer MJ, David AS, Fu CHY (2008): Predictors of amygdala activation during the processing of emotional stimuli: A meta-analysis of 385 PET and fMRI studies. Brain Research Reviews 58: 57–70.

      10. Lieberman MD, Eisenberger NI, Crockett MJ, Tom SM, Pfeifer JH, Way BM (2007): Putting Feelings Into Words. Psychol Sci 18: 421–428.

      11. Torrisi SJ, Lieberman MD, Bookheimer SY, Altshuler LL (2013): Advancing understanding of affect labeling with dynamic causal modeling. NeuroImage 82: 481–488.

      12. Flannery JE, Giuliani NR, Flournoy JC, Pfeifer JH (2017): Neurodevelopmental changes across adolescence in viewing and labeling dynamic peer emotions, 2017/02/10 ed. Dev Cogn Neurosci 25: 113–127.

      13. Torre JB, Lieberman MD (2018): Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling as Implicit Emotion Regulation. Emotion Review 10: 116–124.

      14. Groenewold NA, Opmeer EM, de Jonge P, Aleman A, Costafreda SG (2013): Emotional valence modulates brain functional abnormalities in depression: evidence from a meta-analysis of fMRI studies. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews 37: 152–63.

      15. Fowler CH, Miernicki ME, Rudolph KD, Telzer EH (2017): Disrupted amygdala-prefrontal connectivity during emotion regulation links stress-reactive rumination and adolescent depressive symptoms. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience 27: 99–106.

      16. Wingen GA van, Eijndhoven P van, Tendolkar I, Buitelaar J, Verkes RJ, Fernández G (2011): Neural basis of emotion recognition deficits in first-episode major depression. Psychological Medicine 41: 1397–1405.

      17. Hoehl S, Brauer J, Brasse G, Striano T, Friederici AD (2010): Children’s processing of emotions expressed by peers and adults: An fMRI study. Social Neuroscience 5: 543–559.

      18. Atzil S, Hendler T, Feldman R (2011): Specifying the Neurobiological Basis of Human Attachment: Brain, Hormones, and Behavior in Synchronous and Intrusive Mothers. Neuropsychopharmacol 36: 2603–2615.

      19. Laurent HK, Ablow JC (2013): A face a mother could love: Depression-related maternal neural responses to infant emotion faces. Social Neuroscience 8: 228–239.

      20. Morgan JK, Ambrosia M, Forbes EE, Cyranowski JM, Amole MC, Silk JS, et al. (2015): Maternal response to child affect: Role of maternal depression and relationship quality. Journal of Affective Disorders 187: 106–113.

      21. Musser ED, Kaiser-Laurent H, Ablow JC (2012): The neural correlates of maternal sensitivity: An fMRI study. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience 2: 428–436.

      22. Turpyn CC, Niehaus C, Faundez F, Thompson JC, Chaplin TM (2019): Maternal Neurobiological Processing of Negative Adolescent Stimuli: Relations with Positive Parenting and Relationship Quality. J Res Adolesc.

      23. Barendse MEA, Allen NB, Sheeber L, Pfeifer JH (2022): The Impact of Depression on Mothers’ Neural Processing of Their Adolescents’ Affective Behavior. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience nsac001.

      24. Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE (2005): Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of general psychiatry 62: 593–602.

      25. Sheeber LB, Davis B, Leve C, Hops H, Tildesley E (2007): Adolescents’ Relationships with Their Mothers and Fathers: Associations with Depressive Disorder and Subdiagnostic Symptomatology. J Abnorm Psychol 116: 144–154.

      26. Lovejoy MC, Graczyk PA, O’Hare E, Neuman G (2000): Maternal depression and parenting behavior: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review 20: 561–592.

      27. Kroenke K, Strine TW, Spitzer RL, Williams JBW, Berry JT, Mokdad AH (2009): The PHQ-8 as a measure of current depression in the general population. Journal of Affective Disorders 114: 163–173.

      28. Nelson BW, Sheeber L, Pfeifer J, Allen NB (2020): Psychobiological markers of allostatic load in depressed and nondepressed mothers and their adolescent offspring. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 62: 199–211.

      29. Prinz RJ, Foster S, Kent RN, O’Leary KD (1979): Multivariate Assessment of Conflict in Distressed and Nondistressed Mother-Adolescent Dyads. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 12: 691–700.

      30. Hops H, Biglan A, Tolman A, Arthur J, Longoria N (1995): Living in Family Environments (LIFE) coding system: Reference manual for coders. Eugene, OR: Oregon Research Institute.

      31. Egger HL, Pine DS, Nelson E, Leibenluft E, Ernst M, Towbin KE, Angold A (2011): The NIMH Child Emotional Faces Picture Set (NIMH‐ChEFS): a new set of children’s facial emotion stimuli. Int J Methods Psychiatr Res 20: 145–156.

      32. Esteban O, Markiewicz CJ, Blair RW, Moodie CA, Isik AI, Erramuzpe A, et al. (2019): fMRIPrep: a robust preprocessing pipeline for functional MRI [no. 1]. Nature Methods 16: 111–116.

      33. Mulders PC, van Eijndhoven PF, Schene AH, Beckmann CF, Tendolkar I (2015): Resting-state functional connectivity in major depressive disorder: A review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 56: 330–344.

      34. Pereira MG, de Oliveira L, Erthal FS, Joffily M, Mocaiber IF, Volchan E, Pessoa L (2010): Emotion affects action: Midcingulate cortex as a pivotal node of interaction between negative emotion and motor signals. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience 10: 94–106.

      35. Caruana F, Gerbella M, Avanzini P, Gozzo F, Pelliccia V, Mai R, et al. (2018): Motor and emotional behaviours elicited by electrical stimulation of the human cingulate cortex. Brain 141: 3035–3051.

      36. Etkin A, Büchel C, Gross JJ (2015): The neural bases of emotion regulation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 16: 693–700.

      37. Harris JJ, Reynell C (2017): How do antidepressants influence the BOLD signal in the developing brain? Dev Cogn Neurosci 25: 45–57.

      38. Pan D, Hoid D, Wang X, Jia Z, Li X (2020): When expanding training from working memory to emotional working memory: not only improving explicit emotion regulation but also implicit negative control for anxious individuals. Psychological Medicine 1–10.