Family support is essential for dealing with depression during adolescence. But the depression itself may impair a child’s ability to accurately identify their parents’ moods, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, Oregon, enlisted 233 adolescents with depression, and their parents, for a study to determine how well the children could gauge parental mood during a conflict situation. The children and their parents were instructed to participate in two separate problem solving interactions, each lasting ten minutes. The first interaction was of minimal conflict, while the second interaction was a significantly problematic topic for the participants. Immediately after each interaction, the children were asked to report what they were feeling during the discussion. They were then presented a video of the interaction, and while they watched it, were asked to identify the moods of their parents.
The results revealed that the level of the child’s depression was directly related to the level of bias in mood interpretation. “Higher levels of adolescent depressive symptoms were associated with fewer adolescent reports of parental happy and neutral affects and more frequent reports of parental aggressive affect, for both mothers and fathers,” said the researchers. “Overall, these findings are consistent with prior evidence that youth with depressive symptoms and disorder demonstrate a negative bias in perceiving and labeling affect.” They added, “In particular, under-perceiving positive affect and over-perceiving aggressive affect may lead depressed persons to overlook available social reinforcement and support and overestimate the social threat in their environments, leading, in turn, to defensive depressive behaviors with the potential to elicit adverse reactions from others.” They believe that this dilemma results in an exacerbation of depressive symptoms and can further strain family relationships. “Given the importance of accurately reading affective cues for negotiating interpersonal interactions, these findings likely have implications for understanding processes that contribute to adverse relationships among the families of adolescents with depressive symptoms.”
Ehrmantrout, Nikki, Nicholas B. Allen, Craig Leve, Betsy Davis, and Lisa Sheeber. “Adolescent Recognition of Parental Affect: Influence of Depressive Symptoms.”Journal of Abnormal Psychology 120.3 (2011): 628-34. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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