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Child Dev. 1987 Apr;58(2):395-400.

Speech patterning of natural discourse of well and depressed mothers and their young children.


The speech behavior of 14 depressed and 18 nondepressed mothers during conversations with their 3-year-old children was examined in this study. Given the general motor retardation, reduced energy level, and social withdrawal of depressed individuals, the speech patterns of depressed mothers were predicted to differ from the speech patterns of well mothers. Depressed mothers vocalized less often and responded less quickly to the cessation of their children's speech than healthy mothers. However, in a mildly stressful situation (awaiting a doctor's visit) the depressed mothers, but not the healthy mothers, significantly increased their level of speech productivity. Children of the depressed mothers spoke less than children of healthy women, particularly while sitting and eating lunch with their mothers. The observed difference in the mothers' behaviors was interpreted as an indication that the 2 groups of children are exposed to very different patterns of socialization. The offspring of depressed women are being taught both to keep social interaction to a minimum and to be overreactive to even mild stresses. The differences in the children's behavior may indicate that already these 3-year-old children have learned to keep their interactions with their mother to a minimum. This manner of adaptation may have negative effects on the child's continued social, emotional, and cognitive development.

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