Daughters Monitor Threats for Panicked Mothers

Anxiety issues can be generational. Theories exist that suggest that some children are genetically predisposed to develop anxiety issues, while other research supports the transmission of anxiety symptoms from parents to children through exposure and experience. Panic disorder (PD) is one mental health challenge that has been somewhat overlooked in this debate. Specifically, it is unclear whether panic symptoms pass from parent to child, and if so, what causes this transmission. Karin Mogg of the Department of Psychology at the University of Southampton in England decided to explore this relationship further.

In a recent study, Mogg looked at how attentional bias toward threat, an indicator of risk for anxiety, differed in a group of mothers and daughters with and without a history of PD. Mogg recruited 60 mothers and their preteen or teenage daughters and conducted threat experiments on them. The threat cues were visual and verbal in nature, and were designed to threaten physical health. The results revealed some interesting relationships. First, the daughters of mothers with PD did have bias toward the threats, while those whose mothers had no history of anxiety did not. But this bias existed only when the cues were viewed for long durations, not brief durations. Also, the mothers with and without PD did not vary in their levels of attentional bias.

Overall, the findings showed that the daughters with PD mothers had elevated anxiety scores and more physical health concerns than the daughters of mothers without PD. This was demonstrated in girls with and without anxiety. Interestingly, there was no similarity in the attentional bias in the mothers with PD and their daughters. Cole believes that daughters of PD mothers may be sensitive to cues that present threats for their mothers, regardless of their own anxiety levels. Over time, they may have developed methods to monitor situations that could potentially increase their mothers’ anxiety. Longer attention to such dangerous cues could be one way they remain vigilant in this respect. “Thus, general anxiety-proneness in mothers (rather than lifetime PD, in particular) may give rise to increased threat-monitoring strategies in their offspring, which may in turn contribute to anxiety vulnerability,” Cole said. He believes that future work should look at how attentional bias in youth without anxiety affects risk of anxiety problems later in life.

Mogg, Karin, Kimberly A. Wilson, Chris Hayward, Darby Cunning, and Brendan P. Bradley. Attentional biases for threat in at-risk daughters and mothers with lifetime panic disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 121.4 (2012): 852-62. Print.

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  • Ellie


    December 13th, 2012 at 3:50 AM

    When I have children I am going to do anything in my power to prevent them from having the issues that I have always lived with, mainly depression and anxiety. I don’t even want to have someone else have to live like I have lived, and I know that they see so much of what goes on with the mom and they are likely to have many of the same things since it can be so generational in nature. If I never work through my issues, then so be it, no children for me.

  • Kevon


    December 13th, 2012 at 8:27 AM

    My mom suffered from anxiety and even though I’m a guy and not a girl, it definitely affected me and still does. When we do anything together, I always have it in the back of my head that I need to manipulate situations so she won’t get anxious. Her anxiety gets triggered in situations where she has to wait for what to seems to her to be a long time. So, I am always kind of panicked looking for the shortest line, the fastest waitress, etc. I don’t even like movie trailers because I can just feel her getting anxious next to me.

  • Kelly


    December 13th, 2012 at 8:28 AM

    Kevon, you sound like a very caring and devoted son. I’m sure you’re mom feels lucky to have you to watch out for her.

  • Karen


    December 13th, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    I think Kevin may be acting a little co-dependent and may need to separate himself some from his mom. i dont know how old he is but he may need ot spend some time away from her and maybe get some therapy so he doesn’t just cater to her every whim. it isn’t good for him or his mom/

  • giles


    December 13th, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    maybe we are just predisposed to watch out for those we care about..I know my mom is afraid of heights so I ensure she is away from this danger at all times.I don’t think its the passing on of the anxiety factor but maybe we get used to taking care of them in certain ways and against certain things that they may fear or feel anxious about.

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