Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia Levels and Fluctuation in Children of Depressed versus Nondepressed Mothers
Previous research has demonstrated that offspring of depressed mothers are at increased risk for developing dysfunctional affect regulation, which is a risk factor for the onset of depression and other psychopathology. One way in which depression may be transmitted from mothers to their children is through dysfunctional neuroregulatory mechanisms, especially those related to affect regulation. Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA) has been shown to be related to affect regulation, and RSA level and fluctuation index an individual’s autonomic flexibility. The present study investigated whether there were differences in RSA level and fluctuation in offspring of depressed and nondepressed mothers, as well as how RSA levels related to affect. The study consisted of 92 mother-child dyads (37 mothers with a history of depression and 55 nondepressed mothers). Mothers and children completed questionnaires, and RSA data were obtained from children while they watched brief video clips (neutral, negative, and positive). RSA levels or fluctuation did not differ significantly between children of depressed and nondepressed mothers, and RSA levels did not significantly predict children’s affect during the mood induction videos. Exploratory analyses revealed a nonsignificant, trend for child sex and mother’s level of depression symptoms to predict RSA during the mood induction videos. Limitations of the current study and directions for future research are discussed.