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 journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


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

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was supported by a research grant R01 MH067792 , awarded by the National Institute of Mental Health to Sheree Toth, Dante Cicchetti, and Fred Rogosch. We wish to acknowledge the valuable contributions of our study participants and research assistants. Reliability coding for the Five Minute Speech Samples in this project was completed by Stephanie Capobianco. All persons who made substantial contributions to the work reported in the manuscript (e.g., technical help, writing and editing assistance, general support), but who do not meet the criteria for authorship. If we have not included an Acknowledgement, then that indicates that we have not received substantial contribution from non-authors.


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

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