Brain Electrical Activity in Infants of Depressed and Anxious Mothers

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Numerous studies suggest that positive and negative emotions are associated with different patterns of cerebral hemisphere activation and that specific patterns of electroencephalographic (EEG) asymmetry may indicate risk for depression and anxiety. The extant developmental psychopathology literature has examined patterns of EEG asymmetry in the offspring of parents with affective disorders and such research has reported linkages between frontal EEG asymmetry and depression, suggesting that measures of EEG asymmetry may be important neurological markers of risk for affective disorders. Despite the greater prevalence of anxiety disorders than depressive disorders and the literature suggesting that resting EEG asymmetry may serve as an index of both depression and anxiety, no research has yet examined patterns of EEG asymmetry in the offspring of parents with anxiety disorders. The purpose of the present study was to examine early markers of risk for psychopathology in the biological domain (e.g., patterns of EEG asymmetry) in an attempt to elucidate some of the precursors of anxiety and depression in children so that we might gain a better understanding of the development of these disorders.

The present investigation examined the relation between maternal history of depression and anxiety and patterns of EEG asymmetry in infant offspring. EEG measures of alpha power (4-6 Hz) in the right and left hemisphere were recorded in infants (four to eight months of age) of mothers with a documented history of major depressive disorder (n = 39), anxiety disorder (n = 22), and comparison subjects (n = 38) during a resting baseline task. Results suggest that maternal depression and maternal anxiety was statistically unrelated to patterns of infant asymmetry. The results suggested that fewer infants of mothers with specific phobia (with and without depression) had right mid-parietal asymmetry than infants of control mothers. Perceived social support was related to patterns of infant EEG asymmetry. These findings provide modest support for the hypothesis that maternal diagnostic history may be related to patterns of infant asymmetry in various regions of the brain during a resting state.