The influence of maternal parenting style on the neural correlates of emotion processing in children

Elena Pozzi, Julian G Simmons, Chad A. Bousman, Nandita Vijayakumar, Katherine O. Bray, Orwa Dandash, Sally Richmond, Orli Schwartz, Marc Seal, Lisa Sheeber, Marie B.H. Yap, Nicholas B. Allen, Sarah L. Whittle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: The importance of parenting in influencing mental health outcomes, particularly depression, during childhood and adolescence is well known. However, the mechanisms are unclear. Emotion processing impairments in children are believed to be influenced by negative parenting behaviors and fundamental to depression. As such, investigating the association between parenting behavior and the neural underpinnings of emotion processing in children could provide fundamental clues as to the link between parenting and depression. Method: Eighty-six children (49 girls, mean age 10.1 years), as part of a longitudinal study, participated. Observational measures of maternal behavior were collected during 2 mother–child interactions. Children underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while performing an implicit emotion-processing task, and measures of child internalizing symptoms were collected. Results: Maternal negative behavior exhibited during an event-planning interaction was associated with decreased activation in the lingual gyrus in girls, whereas maternal negative behavior during a problem-solving interaction was associated with increased amygdala activation in the entire sample during processing of angry and fearful faces. Maternal communicative behavior during the 2 mother–child interactions was associated with increased activity in the bilateral middle orbitofrontal cortex in the entire sample. Negative behavior during the problem-solving interaction was associated with connectivity between the amygdala and superior parietal lobe. Brain activity/connectivity was not related to internalizing symptoms. Conclusion: Results suggest that, in children, maternal behavior could be associated with activity in brain regions involved in emotion processing. However, more research is needed to elucidate the link among parenting, emotion processing, and depressive symptoms in young people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-282
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • parenting
  • childhood
  • emotions
  • brain function
  • internalizing symptoms

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