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Eye tracking indices of attentional bias in children of depressed mothers: Polygenic influences help to clarify previous mixed findings

  • Max Owens (a1), Ashley J. Harrison (a2), Katie L. Burkhouse (a1), John E. McGeary (a3) (a4) (a5), Valerie S. Knopik (a4) (a5), Rohan H. C. Palmer (a4) (a5) and Brandon E. Gibb (a1)...


Information-processing biases may contribute to the intergenerational transmission of depression. There is growing evidence that children of depressed mothers exhibit attentional biases for sad faces. However, findings are mixed as to whether this bias reflects preferential attention toward, versus attentional avoidance of, sad faces, suggesting the presence of unmeasured moderators. To address these mixed findings, we focused on the potential moderating role of genes associated with hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis reactivity. Participants included children (8–14 years old) of mothers with (n = 81) and without (n = 81) a history of depression. Eye movements were recorded while children passively viewed arrays of angry, happy, sad, and neutral faces. DNA was obtained from buccal cells. Children of depressed mothers exhibited more sustained attention to sad faces than did children of nondepressed mothers. However, it is important that this relation was moderated by children's genotype. Specifically, children of depressed mothers who carried reactive genotypes across the corticotropin-releasing hormone type 1 receptor (CHRH1) TAT haplotype and FK506 binding protein 5 (FKBP5) rs1360780 (but not the solute carrier family C6 member 4 [SLC6A4] of the serotonin transporter linked polymorphic region [5-HTTLPR]) exhibited less sustained attention to sad faces and more sustained attention to happy faces. These findings highlight the role played by specific genetic influences and suggest that previous mixed findings may have been due to genetic heterogeneity across the samples.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Max Owens, Department of Psychology, Binghamton University–SUNY, Binghamton, NY 13902-6000. E-mail:


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