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J Fam Psychol. 2017 Mar;31(2):214-223. doi: 10.1037/fam0000241. Epub 2016 Sep 1.

Mothers' depressive symptoms and children's externalizing behavior: Children's negative emotionality in the development of hostile attributions.

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School of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, East China Normal University.
Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, University of Texas at Austin.


This study examined processes that might account for why negatively emotional children are at high risk for externalizing behavior problems when raised by mothers with depressive symptoms. Because negative emotionality regulates adaptation to stress, we predicted that it would undermine children's adjustment to mothers' depressive symptoms by increasing child emotions likely to elicit reciprocal negativity from depressed mothers, bias negatively children's attributions about others, and activate difficult-to-control oppositional responses. In a large sample (N = 1,082) evaluated from 6 months to second grade, results showed that, when mothers had depressive symptoms early in the child's development, children who were high in negative emotionality-but not those who were low-displayed increased risk for externalizing problems in second grade. This risk reflected tendencies for negatively emotional children, when raised by mothers with depressive symptoms, to develop hostile attributions about others and poor self-regulation of the negativity these attributions promote. The findings suggest that, when mothers with depressive symptoms raise negatively emotional children, children's risk for externalizing behavior problems may reflect tendencies for high negative emotion in children and reciprocal negativity in the dyad to undermine the development of attributional and self-regulatory processes. (PsycINFO Database Record.

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