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Does psychiatric history bias mothers' reports? An application of a new analytic approach.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Henry Ford Health Sciences Center, Detroit, MI 48202, USA.



To evaluate whether mothers' psychiatric history biases reports of their children's behavior problems, mothers' and teachers' reports of children's behavior problems were compared using a recently developed statistical approach.


Child Behavior Checklists and Teacher's Report Forms were completed by mothers and teachers, respectively, about 801 six-year-old children. Mother's history of major depression, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorder was assessed by using the National Institute of Mental Health Diagnostic Interview Schedule. Generalized estimating equations were used for data analysis.


According to both teachers and mothers, maternal history of major depression was associated with more internalizing problems; the association was significantly stronger when mothers were the informants. Mothers with history of any psychiatric disorder reported more externalizing problems in their children than expected, whereas teachers' reports of externalizing behaviors were unrelated to maternal psychiatric history. These findings could not be explained by variations in children's behaviors across settings.


The generalized estimating equation models enabled simultaneous examination of whether children of depressed mothers have excess behavior problems and whether depressed mothers overreport behavior problems in their children. The results indicate that children of depressed mothers have more internalizing problems. In addition, depressed mothers overstate and overgeneralize their offspring's behavior problems. This study broadens the concerns with reporting bias beyond maternal depression to include other psychiatric problems. The results emphasize the potential for bias in family history studies that rely on informants.

Comment in

  • Biases in reporting of ADHD. [J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1998]
  • Biased maternal reporting of child psychopathology? [J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1998]
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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