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Maternal depression is becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s culture (Ertel, Rich-Edwards, Koenen, 2011). Depressed mothers have more frequent negative affect (NA), which can place children at risk of developing similar emotional problems (Silk, Shaw, Prout, O’Rourke, Lane & Kovacs, 2011). However, most studies investigate depression and NA. Much less is known about positive affect (PA), although emotion regulation strategies with PA, such as savoring (i.e. upregulating positive emotions) and dampening (i.e. downregulating positive emotions) are associated with depressive symptoms (Bijttebier, Raes, Vasey, & Feldman, 2012). Furthermore, studies stress the importance of emotion socialization in adolescent behavior (Klimes‐Dougan et al., 2007). We hypothesized that mothers with depression (either a history of a clinical diagnosis or current elevated symptoms) will respond to their own and their children’s positive events differently than nondepressed mothers. More specifically, maternal depression is expected to be associated with 1) reports of lower PA, less savoring and more dampening to their own or their child’s positive events; and 2) during a mother-child positive event discussion, mentioning less savoring and more dampening, and having less positive responses (validation), and more negative responses (ignore).
Ninety -six mother-child dyads completed the study; with one in-person session done at home or in the lab. Mothers ages 28-63 (M = 38.67, SD = 6.53) and children ages 7-12 (M = 9.27, SD = 1.38) answered questionnaires and completed a 5-minute task discussing a positive event the child experienced. Depressive symptoms in mothers were measured through the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), where higher scores indicate higher levels of depressive symptoms (Radloff, 1977). Mothers also completed a question regarding any history of depression diagnosis, the Positive Events and Responses Survey for Adults and the Parent’s Responses to Children’s Positive Events (Gentzler et al., 2015). Finally, coded behavioral data measured savoring and positive and negative parental responses to children’s positive events (ICC = .55 - .71).
Data were analyzed using an independent samples t test and partial correlations controlling for child age and gender. Results indicated that mothers who had been diagnosed with depression at any point in their lives (M = 3.34, SD = .48) reported savoring less than non-depressed mothers (M = 3.66, SD = .48), t(88) = -3.03, p = .003. Mothers’ current depressive symptoms were linked to more dampening (r = .45, p < .001), less PA (r = -.32, p = .003), less socialization of savoring (r = -.24, p = .03), and more ignoring responses to children’s PA words during the discussion (r = .26, p = .02).
Both the self-reported surveys and the coded behavioral data partially supported the hypotheses. Future research should examine father-child relationships and examine additional indices of parenting (warmth, affection, etc.). Furthermore, the research should include more specific information regarding the timing of the mothers’ diagnoses with depression and the child’s depressive symptoms and responses. Overall, these findings complement research in parental depression and suggest prevention and intervention programs target PA regulation and emotion socialization in the future.