New research explores the mechanisms by which maternal depression impairs children's development

Depression is very common among mothers of young children. It not only damages the mother's emotional experience and daily functions, but also has a lasting and far-reaching negative impact on the child's development. Existing studies have shown that these children face a heightened risk of maladjustments in cognitive, socioemotional, and other development domains. How does maternal depression drive maladjustment in children? What are the mechanisms? To answer this research question, institute faculty, Professor Yiji Wang conducted a series of investigations. Existing studies have examined the mechanisms that may convey the detrimental effects of mothers’ depressive symptoms on children’s adjustment from several perspectives, while the potential contribution of fathers is less studied. Therefore, in the latest research conducted by Professor Wang’ team, the researchers based on Family Systems Theory and Emotional Contagion Theory, focused on the emotional convergence of family members, and examined the role of father's and mother's negative emotions (anger and anxiety) in the long-term relationship between maternal depression and children's behavioral problems. The results demonstrated that, independent of fathers’ depressive symptoms, high levels of maternal depressive symptoms were positively associated with negative emotional states in both parents, mediating the longitudinal associations between mothers’ depressive symptoms and children’s subsequent behavioral maladjustment, particularly internalizing problems. The findings highlight the emotional convergence effects among family members, and provide important longitudinal empirical evidence to better understand the mechanism by which maternal depression drives children's behavioral problems. This research was published on the international journal, Journal of Family Psychology.


Journal Reference:

Wang, Y.*, Wu, X., & Chen, H. (2023). Mothers' depressive symptoms and children's behavioral adjustment: The role of parental negative emotional statesJournal of Family Psychology. online published. doi: 10.1037/fam0001151.


>> To read the article in Chinese at the School of Psychology and Cognitive Science, East China Normal University, click here.