Depressive mothers may pass deficits in emotional response on to their daughters, according to recent research by Stanford University psychologist Ian Gotlib, PhD. The studies may shed light on why children of depressed parents are at greater risk for depression themselves.

In one study, Gotlib and his colleagues recruited 10 mothers with at least two episodes of depression and their 9- to 14-year-old daughters who hadn't had a mental illness.

They showed the daughters photos of happy, sad, angry and neutral faces while observing their brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging. Strikingly, the mentally healthy daughters' neurological response to the emotional faces was very low when compared with girls whose mothers weren't depressed--mirroring the brain activation patterns of depressed adults.

Teasing the connection out further, the researchers then measured the cortisol levels of the girls after inducing stress, such as by asking them to count back from 4,000 by 17s. While the control group showed hardly any reaction at all, the daughters of depressed mothers showed a spike in cortisol during the stressors and a slower recovery.

Taken together, the results indicate depressed mothers may pass problems with regulation and recovery from stress on to their daughters, he said.

--D. SMITH BAILEY