Depression affects not only the person experiencing the depression, but in the case of mothers, their children as well. In a recent study, researchers from Case Western University examined the relationship between maternal depression and child-parent interactions. “Mothers experiencing problems with depression tend to exhibit low levels of parental warmth and support, as well as high levels of negative affect and criticism with their children, which may contribute to the development and maintenance of internalizing and externalizing problems in youth,” said the team. In particular, Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA) may be a key factor in this dynamic. Because RSA affects the breathing and heart rate, reducing RSA may be one avenue to increase available energy that is needed to regulate emotional response.
For their study, the team examined 59 groups of parents and their teen children. They assessed how RSA affected positive and negative emotion in response to specific discussion tasks, specifically, a positive discussion followed by a conflict situation. Finally, they were asked to discuss a positive plan that they could participate in as a family in the upcoming week. As expected, the groups had more negative emotion during the conflict task than the positive behavior and activity tasks.
The team did find a significant relationship between RSA and affect. “In general, higher teen RSA predicted greater mutual positivity. Further, parental RSA appeared to be particularly important for promoting positive mutuality in families of teens exhibiting lower physiological capacity to regulate their emotions.” They added, “Greater positive mutuality (and less negative emotional mutuality) appears to be central to the socialization of emotions within families and the development of close, supportive parent– child relationships.” The team hopes these results will encourage future research in this area. “An important next step is to examine RSA and emotional processes related to diagnosed depression and to examine aspects of depression such as chronicity and severity that may be further related to family risk.”
Connell, A. M., Hughes-Scalise, A., Klostermann, S., & Azem, T. (2011, August 29). Maternal Depression and the Heart of Parenting: Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia and Affective Dynamics During Parent–Adolescent Interactions. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025225
© 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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