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J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2013 Feb;54(2):169-77. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12014. Epub 2012 Nov 22.

Does maternal depression predict young children's executive function? - a 4-year longitudinal study.

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  • 1Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.



Building on reports that parental maltreatment and neglect adversely affect young children's executive function (EF), this longitudinal study examined whether exposure to a more common risk factor, mothers' depressive symptoms, predicted individual differences in EF at school-age.


We followed up at age 6 a socially diverse sample of 126 children (78 boys, 48 girls) for whom direct observations of mother-child interactions have been shown to predict gains in EF between the ages of 2 and 4. We used an EF latent factor based on scores from three tasks (Beads, Day/Night, Tower of London) that tapped working memory, inhibitory control and planning, as well as a latent growth model of mothers' Beck Depression Inventory factor scores at four time-points, and included age 6 verbal ability as a covariate in all analyses.


The intercept and slope for mothers' depressive symptoms each predicted unique variance in EF at age 6; these predictive effects remained significant when we also included: (a) age 2 working memory, (b) maternal education and (c) direct observations of maternal positive control at ages 2 and 6.


Our findings suggest that early exposure to mothers' depressive symptoms adversely affects children's developing EF, and that the chronicity of this exposure may matter.

© 2012 The Authors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry © 2012 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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