Archival Report|Articles in Press

Associations Between Parenting Behavior and Neural Processing of Adolescent Faces in Mothers With and Without Depression



      This study first examined how mothers with and without depression differ in neural activation in response to adolescents’ affective faces. Second, 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; meanage = 40 years) from low-income families completed an interaction task with their adolescents (meanage = 12.8 years), which was coded for parents’ aggressive and positive affective behavior. During functional magnetic resonance imaging, mothers viewed blurry, happy, sad, and angry faces of unfamiliar adolescents, with an 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 subject group while labeling happy faces. Higher activation in the insula and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (PFC) was related to less positive parenting behavior. Ventrolateral PFC activation was most pronounced when labeling negative emotions, but stronger ventrolateral PFC 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 dorsomedial PFC activation supporting positive parenting and affect-dependent response in the ventrolateral PFC as being important to limit aggressive behavior.


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