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Physiologic Responsiveness to Social Interaction in Mothers with and without a History of Depression

Amole, Marlissa C. (2016) Physiologic Responsiveness to Social Interaction in Mothers with and without a History of Depression. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Maternal depression is associated with child psychiatric illness, especially in adolescent girls. Depressed mothers have difficulty regulating their own emotions and display diminished emotional reactivity when interacting with their children. In order to better understand the role that such interpersonal difficulties may play in the intergenerational transmission of depression, the present study examined vagal responsiveness, a physiologic indictor of emotion regulation, via measurement of high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV) in pairs of mothers and adolescent daughters during interaction tasks in which they discussed pleasant events and disagreements. Participants included 23 mother-daughter pairs in which both mother and daughter had a history of depression and 23 non-psychiatric control pairs in which neither mother nor daughter had a history of psychiatric illness. Separate piecewise linear growth models were used to compare slopes of HF-HRV between groups of mothers and daughters. Results showed that control mothers and daughters displayed positive slopes in HF-HRV during both pleasant events and disagreement discussions, and negative slopes during rest periods following the discussions. In contrast, mothers and daughters with a history of depression showed minimal vagal responsiveness during discussion and rest periods. These results suggest that while control mothers and daughters displayed vagal flexibility and activation during both discussion tasks—which may facilitate positive socio-emotional engagement and development—depressed individuals exhibited a lack of flexible and sensitive vagal responsiveness. Finally, exploratory analyses examined the covariation of vagal responsiveness between mother-daughter pairs. During the pleasant events discussion, a strong positive correlation was obtained among control dyads and no association was found for controls during the disagreement discussion. In contrast, during both discussions, a negative association between mothers’ and daughters’ patterns of responsiveness was obtained among dyads with a history of depression. The inverse correlations found in dyads with a history of depression suggest that in these individual dyads, mothers and daughters experienced the discussions in different ways, whereas the positive correlation found for control dyads suggests that control mothers and daughters experienced the pleasant events discussion similarly. Treatment strategies aimed at eliciting and sustaining mutual positive emotional interactions may be beneficial for depressed dyads.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Amole, Marlissa C.mca31@pitt.eduMCA31
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairCyranowski, Jill
Committee MemberSilk, Jennifer S.jss4@pitt.eduJSS4
Committee MemberWright, Aidan G.C.aidan@pitt.eduAIDAN
Committee MemberGianaros, Peter J.gianaros@pitt.eduGIANAROS
Date: 27 January 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 30 October 2015
Approval Date: 27 January 2016
Submission Date: 25 November 2015
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 61
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: MS - Master of Science
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: maternal depression, heart rate variability, physiological covariation
Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2016 16:27
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:31


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