BACKGROUND - Parent-child interactions set the stage for child mental health and development. Given that maternal depressive symptoms are associated with poorer observed caregiving behaviors, examining potential cognitive mediators is important for identifying mechanisms underlying the intergenerational transmission of risk and possible targets for intervention.
METHODS - We assessed depressive symptoms and levels of self-focus and psychological distancing from infant-centered verbal narratives obtained from 54 mothers, and examined caregiving behaviors in a structured interaction with their six-month-old infants.
RESULTS - Higher depressive symptoms were associated with pronoun use in narratives (i.e., greater "I" and reduced "we" use), reflecting increased self-focus and psychological distancing. Further, increased self-focus was associated with lower levels of caregiver warmth, and mediated the association between depressive symptoms and caregiving warmth.
LIMITATIONS - This observational study does not allow for causal interpretations.
CONCLUSION - These findings suggest that the cognitive styles associated with depression interfere with the caregiving relationship, affecting behavior in parent-child interactions that may increase the risk for the intergenerational transmission of depression.
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