EUGENE, Ore. -- Mothers who are depressed respond differently to their crying babies than do non-depressed moms. In fact, their reaction, according to brain scans at the University of Oregon, is much more muted than the robust brain activity in non-depressed moms.
An infant crying is normal, but how mothers respond can affect a child's development, says Jennifer C. Ablow, professor of psychology. For years, Ablow has studied the relationship of behavior and physiological responses such as heart rate and respiration of mothers, both depressed and not, when they respond to their infants' crying.
A new study -- online in advance of publication in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience -- provides the first look at brain activity of depressed women responding to recordings of crying infants, either their own or someone else's. The brains of 22 women were scrutinized using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Non-invasive fMRI, when focused on the brain, measures blood flow changes using a magnetic field and radio frequency pulses, producing detailed images that provide scientists with information about brain activity or help medical staff diagnose disease.
Researchers considered both group differences between women with chronic histories of depression and those with no clinical diagnoses, and more subtle variations in the women's brain activity related to current levels of depressive symptoms. All were first time mothers whose babies were 18 months old.
"It looks as though depressed mothers are not responding in a more negative way than non-depressed mothers, which has been one hypothesis," said Heidemarie K. Laurent, assistant professor at the University of Wyoming, who led the study as a postdoctoral researcher in Ablow's lab. "What we saw was really more of a lack of responding in a positive way."
As a group, brain responses in non-depressed mothers responding to the sound of
|Contact: Jim Barlow|
University of Oregon