MATERNAL SELF-REPORTED DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS AND MATERNAL CORTISOL LEVELS INTERACT TO PREDICT INFANT CORTISOL LEVELS
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Three basic findings have emerged from research on maternal depressive symptoms and offspring hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal functioning: (a) Mothers' depressive symptoms are positively associated with their offsprings' cortisol stress response, (b) numerous individual and interpersonal maternal characteristics moderate this association, and (c) maternal and infant cortisol levels are highly correlated. In combination, these findings have suggested that maternal cortisol levels may moderate the relation between maternal depressive symptoms and infant cortisol responsivity; the current study assessed this hypothesis. Participants were 297 mother-infant dyads who were recruited from the community. Maternal depressive symptoms were assessed via self-report. Dyads participated in two differentially stressful infant challenges when infants were 16 and 17 months old. Mother and infant salivary cortisol was collected before and after challenges. Results indicate that maternal cortisol levels moderated associations between maternal depressive symptoms and infant cortisol levels across both challenges. Infants showed higher cortisol levels if their mothers had both higher depressive symptoms and higher cortisol levels, as compared to infants of mothers with higher depressive symptoms and lower cortisol, and to infants of mothers with lower depressive symptoms and either higher or lower cortisol levels. We discuss findings in relation to environmental and biological factors that may contribute to the intergenerational transmission of depressive symptoms.
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