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Maternal Depression Across the First Years of Life Impacts the Neural Basis of Empathy in Preadolescence
Year Published: 2017
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
These authors tested the role of maternal depression in predicting preadolescents’ neural empathetic response. A birth cohort of 1,983 mothers with no contextual risk was followed from birth to 11 years and assessed repeatedly across the first 6 years to form 2 cohorts: mothers continuously depressed from birth to 6 years and controls without depression. At 11 years of age, children in the depressed (n = 27) and nondepressed (n=45) groups completed magnetoencephalography (MEG) sessions to measure their brain response to others’ pain. Findings demonstrate the pervasive, long-term interrelation between early and chronic exposure to maternal depression and the maturation of children’s vicarious empathy. Exposure to maternal depression predicted a decreased late response to others’ distress in a key structure of the mentalizing network, indicating that deficits in empathic response in children of mothers with depression could stem from aborted socio-cognitive processing.