Parental Depression, Parenting, and Cortisol Reactivity in Preschoolers
Dougherty, Lea R
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This study systematically examined individual differences in stress sensitivity as a vulnerability marker for depression in young children. We collected five salivary cortisol samples from 142 preschool-age children who were exposed to a laboratory stressor paradigm. Parents (<italic>N</italic> = 88 with family history of depression) completed clinical interviews and an observational parent-child interaction task. We found that hostile parenting behavior moderated the relation between maternal depression and offspring cortisol. Specifically, the offspring of mothers who had a history of depression during the child's life and whose mothers exhibited hostility evidenced increasing cortisol levels in response to the stressor paradigm. Conversely, the offspring of mothers who had no history of depression and whose mothers exhibited hostility evidenced decreasing cortisol levels in response to the stressor. The data highlight the critical role of the early caregiving environment on offspring's developing stress system and add to our understanding of transmission of depression risk.