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

      Abstract

      Background/aims

      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.

      Methods

      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.

      Results

      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.

      Conclusion

      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.

      Keywords

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