Neurophysiological Processing of Emotion in Children of Mothers with a History of Depression: the Moderating Role of Preschool Persistent Irritability

Ellen M. Kessel, Autumn Kujawa, Lea R. Dougherty, Greg Hajcak, Gabrielle A. Carlson, Daniel N. Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Research on emotion-processing biases in offspring of depressed parents has produced a variety of findings. Child persistent irritability may be a useful clinical feature that demarcates subgroups of offspring with distinct patterns of emotion processing. The present study examined whether early persistent irritability moderated the relationship between maternal lifetime history of a depressive disorder and appetitive- and aversive-emotion processing in 338 never-depressed pre-adolescent children (43.8% female). When children were 3, mothers were interviewed about children’s persistent irritability. Six years later, EEG was recorded while children completed a task in which the late positive potential (LPP), a neural index of emotional reactivity, was measured in response to appetitive, aversive, and neutral images. At both assessments, mothers were interviewed about their own psychopathology. Among offspring of depressed mothers, children characterized by high levels of early persistent irritability showed an enhanced LPP to appetitive and aversive compared to neutral images (i.e., ΔLPP), whereas children with low levels of early irritability showed attenuated ΔLPPs. In offspring of mothers with no history of depression, there was no association between irritability and emotion processing. Findings suggest that persistent irritability influences the pattern of emotion-processing aberrations in offspring of depressed mothers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1599-1608
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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