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Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis reactivity to stress is posited to play a role in the intergenerational transmission of risk for psychopathology and other negative outcomes in the offspring of depressed parents. We tested the hypothesis that the joint, interactive effects of exposure to parental depression during early childhood and parental hostility impact the development of young children’s stress physiology and early emerging behavior problems. A sample of 165 preschool-age children (81 boys, 84 girls), of whom 103 had a parent with a history of depression, was exposed to a stress-inducing laboratory task, and five salivary cortisol samples were obtained. Parents completed clinical interviews and an observational parent–child interaction task. We found that the offspring exposed to maternal depression during early childhood and whose parents displayed hostile parenting behaviors during an observational task evidenced high and increasing cortisol levels in response to a laboratory stressor. In addition, the total amount of exposure to maternal depression over the child’s life exerted a dose–response effect on the positive relation between parental hostility and child observed oppositional behavior. This study underscores the importance of the early rearing environment on young children’s stress physiology and early emerging behavior problems.
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- Early Exposure to Parental Depression and Parenting: Associations with Young Offspring’s Stress Physiology and Oppositional Behavior
Lea R. Dougherty
Marissa R. Tolep
Victoria C. Smith
- Springer US