The effect of maternal depression on mental representations and child negative affect

Julie  A  G Davis, Michelle E. Alto, Assaf Oshri, Fred Rogosch, Dante Cicchetti, Sheree L. Toth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Maternal depression is a widely recognized public health concern with significant implications for child functioning, including the development of negative child affect and risk for later depression. Negative mental representations may partially account for the association between maternal depression and child negative affect. Methods: The effect of depression on low-income mothers’ representations of their child, self, and mother was assessed via Expressed Emotion (EE) during Five-Minute Speech Samples. Direct and indirect pathways between maternal depression, EE, and child negative affect were examined. Mothers (M = 24 years old) who had experienced a major depressive episode (n = 144) since child's birth, non-depressed comparison mothers (n = 62), and their children participated. Results: Examination of between-group differences revealed that depressed mothers had higher levels of overall self EE. Trend results also suggest depressed mothers may have higher overall EE toward their children and their own mothers. Novel coding systems for EE toward self (Identity and Depressotypic Cognitions) and EE toward mother (Source of Concrete Support and Resolution of Past Adversity) were also developed and tested. A significant indirect relation was found between maternal baseline depression and child negative affect at 26 months via the mother's level of EE-Criticism of her mother. Limitations: Certain EE subcodes may need to be adapted for young children and high-risk, low-income participants. Conclusions: : Findings highlights the importance of relational interventions that focus on maternal representations for women with depression and their children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-20
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - Jan 15 2020



  • Child negative affect
  • Expressed emotion
  • Maternal depression
  • Mental representations

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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