Skip to main content Accessibility help

Affective and physiological responses to stress in girls at elevated risk for depression

  • Christian E. Waugh (a1), Luma Muhtadie (a1), Renee J. Thompson (a1), Jutta Joormann (a2) and Ian H. Gotlib (a1)...


Children of depressed parents are significantly more likely to develop depression and other mental health disorders than are children of never-depressed parents. Investigations of the physiological mechanisms underlying this elevated risk have generally focused on basal functioning. It is important to note, however, that physiological reactivity or responses to stress are also critical determinants of mental and physical health. In the current study, we examined whether children of depressed parents exhibit altered physiological responses to stress. In two studies, never-depressed adolescent daughters of either recurrently depressed mothers (RISK) or never-depressed mothers (CTL) underwent social stressors while their physiological responses were measured (cortisol in Study 1, heart rate in Study 2). In both studies, affective responses to the stressors predicted physiological responses in RISK girls, but not in never-depressed girls. For RISK girls, decreased positive affect in response to stress predicted increased cortisol reactivity; in addition, decreased positive affect and increased negative affect were associated with poorer heart rate recovery and habituation, respectively. Future research is needed to examine explicitly whether this coherence between affect and physiology is a mechanism underlying the increased risk for psychopathology in children of depressed parents.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Christian E. Waugh, Department of Psychology, P.O. Box 7778, Wake Forest University, Winston Salem, NC 27109; E-mail:


Hide All
Abramson, L. Y., Seligman, M. E. P., & Teasdale, J. D. (1978). Learned helpless in humans: Critique and reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 4974.
Ashman, S. B., Dawson, G., & Panagiotides, H. (2008). Trajectories of maternal depression over 7 years: Relations with child psychophysiology and behavior and role of contextual risks. Development and Psychopathology, 20, 5577.
Ashman, S. B., Dawson, G., Panagiotides, H., Yamada, E., & Wilkinson, C. W. (2002). Stress hormone levels of children of depressed mothers. Development and Psychopathology, 14, 333349.
Barnett, P. A., & Gotlib, I. H. (1988). Psychosocial functioning and depression: Distinguishing among antecedents, concomitants, and consequences. Psychological Bulletin, 104, 97126.
Beck, A. T. (1967). Depression: Causes and treatment. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Beck, A. T. (1976). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. New York: New American Library.
Berntson, G. G., Bigger, J. T. Jr., Eckberg, D. L., Grossman, P., Kaufmann, P. G., Malik, M., et al. (1997). Heart rate variability: Origins, methods, and interpretive caveats. Psychophysiology, 34, 623648.
Birmaher, B., Khetarpal, S., Brent, D., Cully, M., Balach, L., Kaufman, J., et al. (1997). The screen for child anxiety related emotional disorders (SCARED): Scale construction and psychometric characteristics. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 36, 545553.
Brown, J., Cohen, P., Johnson, J. G., & Smailes, E. M. (1999). Childhood abuse and neglect: Specificity of effect on adolescent and young depression and suicidality. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 38, 14901496.
Bryk, A., & Raudenbush, S. (1992). Hierarchical linear models: Applications and data analysis methods. Newbury Park, NJ: Sage.
Burke, H. M., Davis, M. C., Otte, C., & Mohr, D. C. (2005). Depression and cortisol responses to psychological stress: A meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 30, 846856.
Chida, Y., & Hamer, M. (2008). Chronic psychosocial factors and acute physiological responses to laboratory-induced stress in healthy populations: A quantitative review of 30 years of investigations. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 829885.
Conley, C. S., & Rudolph, K. D. (2009). The emerging sex difference in adolescent depression: Interacting contributions of puberty and peer stress. Development and Psychopathology, 21, 593620.
Davies, P. T., & Windle, M. (1997). Gender-specific pathways between maternal depressive symptoms, family discord, and adolescent adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 33, 657668.
Dearing, K. F., & Gotlib, I. H. (2009). Interpretation of ambiguous information in girls at risk for depression. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37, 7991.
Dienstbier, R. A. (1989). Arousal and physiological toughness: Implications for mental and physical health. Psychological Review, 96, 84100.
Ewart, C. K., Jorgensen, R. S., & Kolodner, K. B. (1998). Sociotropic cognition moderates blood pressure response to interpersonal stress in high-risk adolescent girls. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 28, 131142.
Ewart, C. K., Jorgensen, R. S., Suchday, S., Chen, E., & Matthews, K. A. (2002). Measuring stress resilience and coping in vulnerable youth: The social competence interview. Psychological Assessment, 14, 339352.
First, M. B., Gibbon, M., Spitzer, R. L., & Williams, J. B. W. (1995). User's guide for the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis I disorders (version 2.0). Unpublished manuscript.
Foa, E. B., & Kozak, M. J. (1986). Emotional processing of fear: Exposure to corrective information. Psychological Bulletin, 99, 2035.
Folkman, S., & Moskowitz, J. T. (2000). Positive affect and the other side of coping. American Psychologist, 55, 647654.
Fredrickson, B. L., Mancuso, R. A., Branigan, C., & Tugade, M. M. (2000). The undoing effect of positive emotions. Motivation and Emotion, 24, 237258.
Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. R. (2003). What good are positive emotions in crisis? A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 365376.
Goodman, S. H., & Gotlib, I. H. (1999). Risk for psychopathology in the children of depressed mothers: A developmental model for understanding mechanisms of transmission. Psychological Review, 106, 458490.
Goodman, S. H., & Gotlib, I. H. (2002). Transmission of risk to children of depressed parents: Integration and conclusions. In Goodman, S. H. & Gotlib, I. H. (Eds.), Children of depressed parents: Mechanisms of risk and implications for treatment (pp. 307326). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Gotlib, I. H., & Goodman, S. H. (1999). Children of parents with depression. In Silverman, W. K. & Ollendick, T. H. (Eds.), Developmental issues in the clinical treatment of children (pp. 415432). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Gotlib, I. H., Joormann, J., Minor, K. L., & Hallmayer, J. (2008). HPA axis reactivity: A mechanism underlying the associations among 5-HTTLPR, stress, and depression. Biological Psychiatry, 63, 847851.
Halligan, S. L., Herbert, J., Goodyer, I., & Murray, L. (2007). Disturbances in morning cortisol secretion in association with maternal postnatal depression predict subsequent depressive symptomatology in adolescents. Biological Psychiatry, 62, 4046.
Halligan, S. L., Herbert, J., Goodyer, I. M., & Murray, L. (2004). Exposure to postnatal depression predicts elevated cortisol in adolescent offspring. Biological Psychiatry, 55, 376381.
Hammen, C. L. (2009). Children of depressed parents. In Gotlib, I. H. & Hammen, C. L. (Eds.), Handbook of depression (2nd ed., pp. 275297). New York: Guilford Press.
Joormann, J., Eugene, F., & Gotlib, I. H. (2008). Parental depression: Impact on offspring and mechanisms underlying transmission of risk. In Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (Ed.), Handbook of adolescent depression. New York: Guilford Press.
Joormann, J., Talbot, L., & Gotlib, I. H. (2007). Biased processing of emotional information in girls at risk for depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 116, 135143.
Kaufman, J., Birmaher, B., Brent, D., Rao, U., Flynn, C., Moreci, P., et al. (1997). Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for School-Age Children—Present and lifetime version (K-SADS-PL): Initial reliability and validity data. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 36, 980988.
Kessler, R. C. (2009). The epidemiology of depression. In Gotlib, I. H. & Hammen, C. L. (Eds.), Handbook of depression (2nd ed., pp. 522). New York: Guilford Press.
Kirschbaum, C., Pirke, K.-M., & Hellhammer, D. H. (1993). The “Trier Social Stress Test”: A tool for investigating psychobiological stress responses in a laboratory setting. Neuropsychobiology, 28, 7681.
Kovacs, M. (1985). The children's depression inventory. Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 21, 995998.
Kristjansson, S. D., Kircher, J. C., & Webb, A. K. (2007). Multilevel models for repeated measures research designs in psychophysiology: An introduction to growth curve modeling. Psychophysiology, 44, 728736.
Lauer, M. S., & Froelicher, V. (2002). Abnormal heart-rate recovery after exercise. Lancet, 360, 11761177.
Laurent, J., Schmidt, N. B., Catanzaro, S. J., Joiner, T. E., & Kelley, A. M. (1998). Factor structure of a measure of anxiety sensitivity in children. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 12, 307331.
Lieb, R., Isensee, B., Hofler, M., Pfister, H., & Wittchen, H.-U. (2002). Parental major depression and the risk of depression and other mental disorders in offspring. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59, 365374.
Lieberman, M. D., Eisenberg, N. I., Crockett, M. J., Tom, S. M., Pfeifer, J. H., & Way, B. M. (2007). Putting feelings into words: Affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli. Psychological Science, 18, 421428.
Llabre, M. M., Spitzer, S. B., Saab, P. G., & Schneiderman, N. (2001). Piecewise latent growth curve modeling of systolic blood pressure reactivity and recovery from the cold pressor test. Psychophysiology, 38, 951960.
Lopez-Duran, N. L., Kovacs, M., & George, C. J. (2009). Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis dysregulation in depressed children and adolescents: A meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34, 12721283.
Mannie, Z. N., Harmer, C. J., & Cowen, P. J. (2007). Increased waking salivary cortisol levels in young people at familial risk of depression. American Journal of Psychiatry, 164, 617621.
Mauss, I. B., Levenson, R. W., McCarter, L., Wilhelm, F. H., & Gross, J. J. (2005). The tie that binds? Coherence among emotion experience, behavior, and physiology. Emotion, 5, 175190.
McEwen, B. S. (1998). Stress, adaptation, and disease. Allostasis and allostatic load. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 840, 3344.
Miranda, J., Persons, J. B., & Byers, C. N. (1990). Endorsement of dysfunctional beliefs depend on current mood state. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 99, 237241.
Monroe, S. M., & Simons, A. D. (1991). Diathesis–stress theories in the context of life stress research: Implications for the depressive disorders. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 406425.
Mykletun, A., Bjerkeset, O., Overland, S., Prince, M., Dewey, M., & Stewart, R. (2009). Levels of anxiety and depression as predictors of mortality: The HUNT study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 195, 118125.
Parker, K. J., Buckmaster, C. L., Schatzberg, A. F., & Lyons, D. M. (2004). Prospective investigation of stress inoculation in young monkeys. Archives of General Psychiatry, 61, 933941.
Parker, K. J., Schatzberg, A. F., & Lyons, D. M. (2003). Neuroendocrine aspects of hypercortisolism in major depression. Hormones & Behavior, 43, 6066.
Pruessner, J. C., Kirschbaum, C., Meinlschmid, G., & Hellhammer, D. H. (2003). Two formulas for computation of the area under the curve represent measures of total hormone concentration versus time-dependent change. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 28, 916931.
Rao, U., Hammen, C. L., Ortiz, L. R., Chen, L., & Poland, R. E. (2008). Effects of early and recent adverse experiences on adrenal response to psychosocial stress in depressed adolescents. Biological Psychiatry, 64, 521526.
Raudenbush, S., Bryk, A., & Congdon, R. (2008). HLM6 [Computer software]. Chicago: Scientific Software International.
Roberts, J. E., & Kassel, J. D. (1996). Mood-state dependence in cognitive vulnerability to depression: The roles of positive and negative affect. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 20, 112.
Salomon, K., Clift, A., Karlsdottir, M., & Rottenberg, J. (2009). Major depressive disorder is associated with attenuated cardiovascular reactivity and impaired recovery among those free of cardiovascular disease. Health Psychology, 28, 157165.
Sapolsky, R. M., Romero, L. M., & Munck, A. U. (2000). How do glucocorticoids influence stress responses? Integrating permissive, suppressive, stimulatory, and preparative actions. Endocrine Review, 21, 5589.
Seeman, T. E., McEwen, B. S., Rowe, J. W., & Singer, B. H. (2001). Allostatic load as a marker of cumulative biological risk: MacArthur studies of successful aging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 98, 47704775.
Stewart, W., Ricci, J., Chee, E., Hahn, S., & Morganstein, D. (2003). Cost of lost productive work time among US workers with depression. Journal of American Medical Association, 289, 31353144.
Taylor, L., & Ingram, R. E. (1999). Cognitive reactivity and depressotypic information processing in children of depressed mothers. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 108, 202210.
Taylor, S. F., Phan, K. L., Decker, L. R., & Liberzon, I. (2003). Subjective rating of emotionally salient stimuli modulates neural activity. NeuroImage, 18, 650659.
Thompson, R. F., & Spencer, W. A. (1966). Habituation: A model phenomenon for the study of neuronal substrates of behavior. Psychological Review, 73, 1643.
Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 320333.
Tukey, J. (1977). Exploratory data analysis. Reading, MA: Addison–Wesley.
Turner, S. M., Beidel, D. C., & Roberson-Nay, R. (2005). Offspring of anxious parents: Reactivity, habituation, and anxiety-proneness. Behaviour Research & Therapy, 43, 12631279.
Waugh, C. E., Panage, S., Mendes, W. B., & Gotlib, I. H. (2010). Cardiovascular and affective recovery from anticipatory threat. Biological Psychology, 84, 169175.
Weissman, M. M., Warner, V., Wickramaratne, P., Moreau, D., & Olfson, M. (1997). Offspring of depressed parents: 10 years later. Archives of General Psychiatry, 54, 932940.
Young, E. A., Lopez, J. F., Murphy-Weinberg, V., Watson, S. J., & Akil, H. (2000). Hormonal evidence for altered responsiveness to social stress in major depression. Neuropsychopharmacology, 23, 411418.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Affective and physiological responses to stress in girls at elevated risk for depression

  • Christian E. Waugh (a1), Luma Muhtadie (a1), Renee J. Thompson (a1), Jutta Joormann (a2) and Ian H. Gotlib (a1)...


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.