Category: Parenting / Families

Symposium

Parent-Child Adrenocortical Attunement: Associations With Parental Depression, Parenting, and Offspring Psychopathology

Saturday, November 18
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Location: Indigo Ballroom B, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Depression | Families | Psychophysiology
Presentation Type: Symposium

Offspring of depressed parents are 3 times more likely to develop psychopathology. One hypothesized mechanism for depression and its intergenerational transmission of risk is the HPA-axis, specifically the cortisol awakening response (CAR). Abnormalities in the CAR have been observed in depressed individuals and the offspring of depressed parents and predict the onset of depression in youth. Investigating the CAR in the offspring of depressed parents and their parents may provide insight into the mechanisms involved in the transmission of risk. This study investigated adrenocortical attunement of the CAR between parents and their young offspring (ages 3-5 yrs). First, we examined whether parental depression history moderated parent-child adrenocortical attunement. Second, we examined concurrent and longitudinal associations between adrenocortical attunement and parenting and children’s psychopathology. Participants included 142 parent-child dyads; of these dyads, 98 returned for the Wave 2 assessment 3 years later. At Wave 1, parents and children provided salivary cortisol samples. Parental depression and child psychopathology were assessed using clinical interviews; parenting was assessed using a parent-child interaction task. Results indicated greater parent-child adrenocortical attunement in dyads with parents with a history of depression. At Wave 1, greater parent-child attunement was concurrently associated with greater ADHD symptoms and lower psychosocial functioning. Greater attunement also predicted increases in parental hostility from Wave 1 to Wave 2 in the offspring of depressed parents only. Greater attunement was associated with greater depressive symptoms at Wave 1 and Wave 2 for girls only. Findings highlight adrenocortical attunement as an important physiological process related to parental depression and may provide insight into the sex difference in depression. This is the first study to demonstrate the long-term clinical impact of parent-child attunement. Biological mechanisms related to the parent-child relationship, such as adrenocortical attunement, may serve as a mechanism of risk and inform interventions targeting the parent-child dyad.

Lea R. Dougherty

Associate Professor
University of Maryland, College Park

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Parent-Child Adrenocortical Attunement: Associations With Parental Depression, Parenting, and Offspring Psychopathology



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