Parental depressive symptoms over time and transmission of risk to adopted toddlers' emotion regulation

Open Access
Roben, Caroline Knox
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 28, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Pamela Marie Cole, Dissertation Advisor
  • Jenae Marie Neiderhiser, Committee Member
  • Ginger A Moore, Committee Member
  • Peter Cm Molenaar, Committee Member
  • emotion regulation
  • depression
  • gene x environment
  • prenatal
  • depressive symptoms
  • parental depression
  • early childhood
  • anger
There are likely biological and environmental factors that account for the association between parental depression and emotion regulation difficulties of children. However, there are very few studies that have examined the mutual and distinct influences of genetic and rearing factors together. The current study sought to answer three questions: 1) what are the patterns of genetic and environmental risk conferred by parental depressive symptoms using timing, chronicity, and severity of birth and adoptive parents’ depressive symptoms, 2) how do genetic risk and environmental risk operate together to influence emotional exchanges in the parent-toddler interaction, and 3) are genetic and environmental risk to emotion regulation moderated by the nature of parent-child dyadic interaction? This study used toddler anger expression during a challenging task as an index of toddler emotion regulation. Data were from the prospective adoption study of 361 families, the Early Growth and Development Study, at child ages 9, 18, and 27 months. Findings indicated that both timing and chronicity of adoptive mothers’ depressive symptoms influenced toddler anger expression. Adoptive fathers’ symptoms did not influence children directly, but instead influenced mothers’ symptoms over time. These findings were in the presence of genetic risk, which operated through a perinatal risk factor, symptoms of preeclampsia. Moreover, these environmental and genetic patterns of risk were moderated by adoptive parent-toddler interaction, such that children’s anger expression was influenced by genetic and environmental risks, but only when the parent-toddler interaction had a negative quality. Taken together, these results offer new evidence on the intergenerational transmission of risk from parental depression, through a developmental psychopathology framework.