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Emotion regulation in adolescents at risk for depression

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ERARD (Emotion regulation in adolescents at risk for depression)

Reporting period: 2019-03-20 to 2021-03-19

ERARD focuses on better understanding mechanisms that contribute to the development of psychopathology, and specifically depression. Depression is a highly prevalent and often recurrent emotional disorder that is characterized with difficulties downregulating negative mood and sustaining or upregulating positive mood. One of the main risk factors to developing depression is having a mother with a history of depression. Indeed, there is some evidence that children of mothers with a history of depression have more difficulties regulating their emotions compared with children of mothers without a history of depression. Additionally, there is some evidence that abnormal brain reactions are related to these difficulties. However, most studies on emotion regulation in children of mothers with depression ignored the social context, which plays a central role in emotional responding and in depression development.To address the limitations in the literature ERARD focused on comparing social-emotional responses of adolescent children (aged 9-13) of mothers with and without a history of depression. To examine social-emotional responses children were asked to listen to critical, neutral, and praising comments said by their mother and by a child their own age and gender. Children listened to these pre-recorded statements while going through a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scan, which showed us how the brain reacted to different statements. After completing the brain scan children completed a 28-day long daily diary, which is a short survey asking about their emotions, social experiences, and depressive symptoms.
So far, I recruited 30 children who completed the brain scan and the diary. A preliminary analysis shows that when listening to critical statements, children recruited brain regions that are implicated in cognitive control of emotions (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; dlPFC) as well as brain regions that are related to emotional and physical pain (the anterior cingulate cortex, ACC). Moreover, children who recruited (i.e. showed more activation in) the dlPFC to a lesser degree when listening to criticism in the fMRI, reacted to parental criticism with increases in depressive symptoms during the diary. Children who recruited the dlPFC more when listening to criticism did not experience any increases in depressive symptoms after criticism (see Figure 1). Finally, children of mothers with (compared to without) a history of depression showed decreased recruitment of the dlPFC when listening to criticism. Brain responses to praise were not related to changes in depression in everyday life. Taken together these results suggest that brain responses to criticism may be one mechanism by which depression is transmitted from mother to child.
In addition to the study which included fMRI we collected data from a larger group of children (N=71) and their mothers. The mothers reported their past and current depression using questionnaires and the children completed a 21-day daily diary in which they reported experiences of criticism and praise from family members and friends. The results of this study showed that whereas all children respond to criticism from family members (i.e. mothers, fathers, or siblings) with transient increases in depressive symptoms, only children whose mothers had a history of depression showed persistent increases in depression in response to familial criticism. In addition, only children whose mothers had a history of depression showed transient increases in depression when friends criticized them. Thus, this study suggests that children of mothers with depression are more sensitive to criticism compared to children of mothers without depression. Finally, praise from either parent was related to lower levels depressive symptom for all children.
ERARD advances the knowledge on processes underlying inter-generational transmission of depression, and in particular how emotion regulation and its neural underpinnings interact with social evaluation to increase depression risk. The results of this study will inform intervention and prevention programs.
Preliminary results of ERARD