Mothers' depressive symptoms and children's facial emotions: Examining the depression-inhibition hypothesis

Theodore Dix, Leah N. Meunier, Kathryn Lusk, Michelle M. Perfect

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations

Abstract

Vibrant expression of emotion is the principal means infants and young children use to elicit appropriate and timely caregiving, stimulation, and support. This study examined the depression-inhibition hypothesis: that declines in mothers' support as their depressive symptoms increase inhibit children's emotional communication. Ninety-four mothers and their 14- to 27-month-olds interacted in a university playroom. Based on microanalytic coding of discrete facial displays, results supported three components of the hypothesis. (a) As mothers' depressive symptoms increased, children displayed less facial emotion (more flat affect, less joy, less sadness, less negative). (b) Mothers' low emotional and behavioral support predicted children's low facial communication and mediated relations between mothers' depressive symptoms and children's infrequent emotion. (c) Children who were passive with mothers behaviorally expressed emotion infrequently. Children's passivity mediated relations between mothers' depressive symptoms and children's infrequent emotion displays. Contrary to modeling and contagion theories, mothers' facial displays did not mediate relations between their depressive symptoms and children's facial displays. Nor were the outcomes children experienced regulating their facial displays. Rather, findings suggest that, even when depressive symptoms are modest, young children inhibit emotion as mothers' depressive symptoms increase to withdraw from unresponsive mothers, which may adversely affect children's subsequent relationships and competencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-210
Number of pages16
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
Volume24
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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