Depressed Mums unnerved by baby tears

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The latest research has shown evidence that the response offered by mothers to the sound of their weeping baby varies depending on the mental state of the mother.

In a depressed mum it has been determined by University of Oregon researchers that the sound is actually quieter or blanked out to a greater degree than is the case with non-depressed mums. It was actual brain scans of a host of individual mums that gave away the variation to the researchers.

The sound of a wailing baby is a normal thing; however the means by which a mum responds to these tears play a major part in the development of the child. Jennifer C. Ablow is the brains behind the latest research; she has for many years been studying the Mum’s response to the wails of her child and has come up with a range of results.

The most insightful evidence she has come across however is where the focus is on the differentials between the depressed and the non depressed state of the mother. She has measured psychological responses such as the heart rate response, along with respiration when measuring response to date.

There is a new study out there now in the Journal of Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience which is giving us a first look into this interesting area. You will if you follow, be provides with links that show exactly the variation in the brain scan data that returns when a depressed mother’s brain functions are measured whilst their child cries, and whilst a non-depressed mum’s baby cries.

The study also takes into account how the brain reacts when the child is not their own. 22 women took part in the study and their brains scrutinized under (fMRI) functional magnetic resonance imaging. This measures the changes in blood flow, with the aid of radio frequency pulses and a magnetic field. This technology is usually used to help diagnose disease.

All of those subjects observed had children of 18 months old, and were mothers for the first time. There was a half and half spilt between mothers who had shown signs of depression in their medical histories, and those who had shown no signs of depression to date.

“It looks as though depressed mothers are responding in a more negative way than non-depressed mothers, which has been one hypothesis,” it was stated by Heidemarie K. Laurent, assistant professor at the University of Wyoming after the research was conducted. That doctor led the study as a postdoctoral researcher in Ablow’s lab. “What we saw was really more of a lack of responding in a positive way.”

Depressed mums failed to show any unique response to the sound of their baby’s tears whilst non-depressed mums demonstrated the effect the tears were having on them with a range of activity in the sub-cortical cluster in the brain. That particular area is closely associated with where we process rewards and motivations in adults and children.

The non-depressed mums showed through this area being active that the sound of the baby crying was actually a ‘positive cue’ or call to action. The depressed mums however lacked any marks of positive cues towards the cries of the child. The mums who reported that at the time of the scan they were experiencing bad symptoms of depression showed even less brain activity when the cries occurred. Here they showed diminished prefrontal brain activity.

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