Maternal thought style affects kids

Since depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, there is an ongoing quest to better understand the disease.

Although understanding and treatment options have improved dramatically over the past few decades, there is still much we simply don't know. If we could unlock the causes of the disease we would be much better equipped to prevent it.

One theory about the cause of depression deals with a person's cognitive style. Negative belief systems about self, the world, and future could impact the way we interpret life events and ultimately underlie the development of depression. Studies have shown negative cognitive style is associated with current and future episodes of depression.

Based on this theory, cognitive behaviour therapy does include cognitive style as one of its target areas. Although we may not be able to remove stress and negative experiences from our lives, we could potentially change our interpretation of these events.

But where do we get our cognitive style in the first place? Studies have shown there are likely genetic and environmental influences and there has been speculation about the role of maternal modeling on the way our thinking patterns develop throughout our lives - although studies of this have been inconsistent so far.

One study published this year in the American Journal of Psychiatry took a closer look at the maternal/offspring connection when it comes to cognitive style. Results showed a positive association between maternal and offspring cognitive styles.

Using data from 4,000 mothers in the UK, researchers investigated maternal cognitive style during their pregnancy as well as the cognitive style of their children at age 18.

Perhaps it's not surprising to imagine that the way our mothers thought or interpreted events could have impacted the way we do. For genetic and environmental reasons it makes sense. What the correlation suggests is that if we can help mothers to improve their cognitive style, it could be helpful to both mother and child in the long run.

This study is interesting but raises as many questions as it answers. It is by no means conclusive evidence that it is the mother's behavior, as opposed to her genetics, that gives rise to the negative cognitive style. It also would remain to be demonstrated that altering the mother's cognitive style would change the child's cognitive style or prevent depression in either parent of child. I am sure research to answer these questions will follow in the years to come. Unfortunately, this type of research is very expensive and since there are no medications involved there is lack of industry funding for such research.

For mothers, just one more thing to add to the new-parent preparation handbook, improve your thought habits and you could potentially prevent your children from developing depression when they become adults.


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