Current Projects


Children’s Autobiographical Memory 

Children of depressed mothers are at significant risk for depression and other psychiatric disorders, poor social and emotional adjustment, and increased problem behaviors. This study examines the patterns of autobiographical memory retrieval in young children of depressed mothers that may contribute to their vulnerabilities to depression. In the proposed study, 3.5- to 4-year-old children of depressed and nondepressed mothers will be recruited and followed over a 9-month period. We seek to understand 1)how maternal and child factors contribute to the development of autobiographical memory; and 2) how children’s overgeneral autobiographical memory is associated with emotional/cognitive outcomes. This project is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Biological and Psychosocial Risk Factors Predicting Maternal Depression and Child Mental Health Problems

Depression is one of the most debilitating mental health problems. It not only leads to impairments and disabilities in a large variety of psychological and physical functioning among the depressed individuals themselves, but also has long-lasting effects on the adverse outcomes of their children. Despite the many approaches to identify risk factors involved, the etiology and maintenance of depression remain poorly understood. In this project, we seek to integrate biological and psychosocial risks of depression, and identify individual risks and risk profiles across multiple domains that predict depressive symptoms in mothers and their children. We leverage the existing longitudinal data collected through the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study, an ongoing nationally representative study of health and well-being. This project is funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Attention Control and Emotion Regulation in Children of Depressed and Nondepressed Mothers

Children of depressed mothers are at significant risk for adverse developmental outcomes, including poor social adjustment, academic difficulties, and clinically significant forms of depression and other psychiatric disorders. This study seeks to identify mechanisms of attentional control and emotion regulation in young children of depressed mothers that contribute to their emotional and behavioral problems, early adjustment problems that are known to be associated with future depression and common comorbidities. Children and their mothers are observed in the laboratory when children are 3, 4, and 5-6 years of age. We collect information on how children regulate their emotions and attention during challenging tasks and the patterns of interaction between mothers and children.

Enhancing Positive Interactions between Depressed Mothers and Their Young Children: A Pilot Intervention Targeting Emotional Exchanges

The goal of this study is to develop and evaluate a family therapy based intervention aimed at improving the emotional exchanges between depressed mothers and their young children. Depressed mothers tend to interact with their children in emotionally maladaptive ways, and children of depressed mothers tend to show poorer outcomes related to emotion regulation and problem behaviors. It is posited that dysfunctional emotional interactions between depressed mothers and their children lead to these poor outcomes for children. Thus, we expect that a relational intervention that targets emotional understanding and adaptive emotional interactions between depressed mothers and their children will promote positive mother-child interactions and emotional competence, and that these improved interactions will in turn lead to reduced child behavior problems and maternal depressive symptoms.