Skip to main content Accessibility help

Influence of parental depressive symptoms on adopted toddler behaviors: An emerging developmental cascade of genetic and environmental effects

  • Caroline K. Pemberton (a1), Jenae M. Neiderhiser (a1), Leslie D. Leve (a2), Misaki N. Natsuaki (a3), Daniel S. Shaw (a4), David Reiss (a5) and Xiaojia Ge (a6)...


This study examined the developmental cascade of both genetic and environmental influences on toddlers' behavior problems through the longitudinal and multigenerational assessment of psychosocial risk. We used data from the Early Growth and Development Study, a prospective adoption study, to test the intergenerational transmission of risk through the assessment of adoptive mother, adoptive father, and biological parent depressive symptoms on toddler behavior problems. Given that depression is often chronic, we control for across-time continuity and find that in addition to associations between adoptive mother depressive symptoms and toddler externalizing problems, adoptive father depressive symptoms when the child is 9 months of age were associated with toddler problems and associated with maternal depressive symptoms. Findings also indicated that a genetic effect may indirectly influence toddler problems through prenatal pregnancy risk. These findings help to describe how multiple generations are linked through genetic (biological parent), timing (developmental age of the child), and contextual (marital partner) pathways.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Caroline K. Pemberton or Jenae M. Neiderhiser, Department of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University, 228 Moore Building, University Park, PA, 16801; E-mail: or


Hide All
Achenbach, T. M. (1992). Manual for the Child Behavior Checklist/2–3 and 1992 profile. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Department of Psychiatry.
Alpern, L., & Lyons-Ruth, K. (2003). Preschool children at social risk: Chronicity and timing of maternal depressive symptoms and child behavior problems at school and at home. Development and Psychopathology, 5, 371387.
Anderson, C. A., & Hammen, C. L. (1993). Psychosocial outcomes of children of unipolar depressed, bipolar, medically ill, and normal women: A longitudinal study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61, 448454.
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.
Bates, J. E., Freeland, C. A. B., & Lounsbury, M. L. (1979). Measurement of infant difficulties. Child Development, 794803.
Beach, S. R. H., Fincham, F. D., & Katz, J. (1998). Marital therapy in the treatment of depression: Toward a third generation of therapy and research. Clinical Psychology Review, 18, 645661.
Beardslee, W. R., Bemporad, J., Keller, M. B., & Klerman, G. L. (1983). Children of parents with major affective disorder: A review. American Journal of Psychiatry, 140, 825832.
Beck, A. T., & Steer, R. A. (1993). Manual for the Beck Depression Inventory. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.
Beck, J. E., & Shaw, D. S. (2005). The influence of perinatal complications and environmental adversity on boys' antisocial behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 3546.
Belsky, J., Gilstrap, B., & Rovine, M. (1984). The Pennsylvania Infant and Family Development Project: I. Stability and change in mother–infant and father–infant interaction in a family setting at one, three, and nine months. Child Development, 55, 692705.
Belsky, J., & Pluess, M. (2009). Beyond diathesis stress: Differential susceptibility to environmental influences. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 885908.
Bettes, B. A. (1988). Maternal depression and motherese: Temporal and intonational features. Child Development, 59, 10891096.
Bierderman, J., Faraone, S. V., Hirshfeld-Becker, D. R., Friedman, D., Robin, J. A., & Rosenbaum, J. F. (2001). Patterns of psychopathology and dysfunction in high-risk children of parents with panic disorder and major depression. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 4957.
Brennan, P. A., Grekin, E. R., Mortensen, E. L., & Mednick, S. A. (2002). Relationship of maternal smoking during pregnancy with criminal arrest and hospitalization for substance abuse in male and female adult offspring. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159, 4854.
Brennan, P. A., Hammen, C., Katz, A. R., & Le Brocque, R. M. (2002). Maternal depression, paternal sychopathology, and adolescent diagnostic outcomes. Journal of Consulting Clinical Psychology, 70, 10751085.
Bretherton, I. (1985). A sampler of parent–child relations. PsycCRITIQUES, 30, 637638.
Bridges, K. M. B. (1932). Emotional development in early infancy. Child Development, 3, 324341.
Briggs-Gowan, M. J., Carter, A. S., & Schwab-Stone, M. (1996). Discrepancies among mother, child, and teacher reports: Examining the contributions of maternal depression and anxiety. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 24, 749765.
Brownell, C. A. & Kopp, C. B. (Eds.). (2007). Socioemotional development in the toddler years: Transitions and transformations. New York: Guilford Press.
Cadoret, R. J., O'Gorman, T. W., Heywood, E., & Troughton, E. (1985). Genetic and environmental factors in major depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 9, 155164.
Campbell, S. B., Spieker, S., Burchinal, M., Poe, M. D., & The NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2006). Trajectories of aggression from toddlerhood to age 9 predict academic and social functioning through age 12. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 791800.
Carro, M. G., Grant, K. E., Gotlib, I. H., & Compas, B. E. (1993). Postpartum depression and child development: An investigation of mothers and fathers as sources of risk and resilience. Development and Psychopathology, 5, 567579.
Caspi, A., Moffitt, T. E., Thornton, A., Freedman, D., Amell, J. W., Harrington, H., et al. (1996). The Life History Calendar: A research and clinical assessment method for collecting retrospective event-history data. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 6, 101114.
Christian, J. L., O'Leary, K. D., & Vivian, D. (1994). Depressive symptomatology in martially discordant women and men: The role of individual and relationship variables. Journal of Family Psychology, 8, 3242.
Chronis, A. M., Lahey, B. B., Pelham, W. E., Williams, S. H., Baumann, B. L., Kipp, H., et al. (2007). Maternal depression and early positive parenting predict future conduct problems in young children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Developmental Psychology, 43, 7082.
Connell, A. M., & Goodman, S. H. (2002). The association between psychopathology in fathers versus mothers and children's internalizing and externalizing behavior problems: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 746773.
Cox, M. J., Owen, M. T., Henderson, V. K., & Margand, N. A. (1992). Prediction of infant–father and infant–mother attachment. Developmental Psychology, 28, 474483.
Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. T. (1994). Maternal depression and child development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 73112.
Cummings, E. M., Keller, P. S., & Davies, P. T. (2005). Towards a family process model of maternal and paternal depressive symptoms: exploring multiple relations with child and family functioning. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 479489.
Davis, P. T., & Windle, M. (1997). Gender-specific pathways between maternal depressive symptoms, family discord and adolescent adjustments. Developmental Psychology, 3, 657668.
Dawson, G. (1994). Development of emotional expression and emotion regulation in infancy: Contributions of the frontal lobe. In Dawson, G. & Fischer, K. W. (Eds.), Human behavior and the developing brain. New York: Guilford Press.
Dietz, L. J., Jennings, K. D., Kelley, S. A., & Marshal, M. (2009). Maternal depression, paternal psychopathology, and toddlers' behavior problems. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 38, 4861.
Dix, T. (1991). The affective organization of parenting: Adaptive and maladaptive processes. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 325.
D'Onofrio, B. M., Van Hulle, C. A., Waldman, I. D., Rodgers, J. L., Harden, K. P., Rathouz, P. J., et al. (2008). Smoking during pregnancy and offspring externalizing problems: An exploration of genetic and environmental confounds. Development and Psychopathology, 20, 139164.
Dodge, K. A., Malone, P. S., Lansford, J. E., Miller, S., Pettit, G. S., & Bates, E. (2009). A dynamic cascade model of the development of substance-use onset. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 74(3), 1134.
D'Onofrio, B. M., Van Hulle, C. A., Waldman, I. D., Rodgers, J. L., Rathouz, P. J., & Lahey, B. B. (2007). Causal inferences regarding prenatal alcohol exposure and childhood externalizing problems. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64, 12961304.
Edelbrock, C., Costello, M., Dulcan, M., Conover, N. C., & Kala, R. (1986). Parent–child agreement on child psychiatric symptoms assed via structured interview. Journal of Child Psychiatry, 27, 181190.
Eisenberg, N., Cumberland, A., & Spinrad, T. L. (1998). Parental socialization of emotion. Psychological Inquiry, 9, 241273.
Elliot, D. S., & Huizinga, D. (1983). Social class and delinquent behavior in a national youth panel. Criminology: An Interdiciplinary Journal, 21, 149177.
Essex, M. J., Klein, M. H., Cho, E., & Kraemer, H. C. (2003). Exposure to maternal depression and marital conflict: Gender differences in children's later mental health symptoms. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 42, 728737.
Fan, X., Thompson, B., & Wang, L. (1999). Effects of sample size, estimation methods, and model specification on structural equation modeling fit indexes. Structural Equation Modeling, 6, 5683.
Feng, X., Shaw, D. S., & Silk, J. S. (2008). Developmental trajectories of anxiety-related behaviors among boys across early and middle childhood. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 117, 3247.
Feng, X., Shaw, D. S., Skuban, E. M., & Lane, T. (2007). Emotional exchange in mother–child dyads: Stability, mutual influence, and associations with maternal depression and child problem behavior. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 714725.
Field, T. M., Hossain, Z., & Malphurs, J. (1999). “Depressed” fathers' interactions with their infants. Infant Mental Health Journal, 20, 322332.
Ge, X., Natsuaki, M. N., Martin, D., Leve, L. D., Neiderhiser, J. M., Shaw, D. S., et al. (2008). Bridging the divide: Openness in adoption and post-adoption psychological adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 529540.
Gleason, J. B. (2005). The development of language. Boston: Pearson.
Goodman, S. H., Brogan, D., Lynch, M. E., & Fielding, B. (1993). Social and emotional competence in children of depressed mothers. Child Development, 64, 516531.
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.
Gross, H. E., Shaw, D. S., Burwell, R. A., & Nagin, D. S. (2009). Transactional processes in child disruptive behavior and maternal depression: A longitudinal study from early childhood to adolescence. Development and Psychopathology, 21, 139156.
Gross, H. E., Shaw, D. S., Moilanen, K. L., Dishion, T. J., & Wilson, M. N. (2008). Reciprocal models of child behavior and depressive symptoms in mothers and fathers in a sample of children at risk for early conduct problems. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 742751.
Hay, D. F. (1997). Postpartum depression and cognitive development. In Murray, L. & Cooper, P. J. (Eds.), Postpartum depression and child development. New York: Guilford Press.
Hyler, S. E. (1994). PDQ-4+ manual. New York: New York State Psychiatric Institute.
Jöreskog, K. G., & Sörbom, D. (1996). LISREL 8: User's reference guide. Lincolnwood, IL: SSI.
Kane, P., & Garber, J. (2004). The relations among depression in fathers, children's psychopathology and father–child conflict: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 24, 339360.
Klein, D. N., Lewinsohn, P. M., Rohde, P., Seeley, J. R., & Olino, T. M. (2005). Psychopathology in the adolescent and young adult offspring of a community sample of mothers and fathers with major depression. Psychological Medicine, 353365.
Kline, R. B. (2004). Beyond significance testing: Reforming data analysis methods in behavioral research. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Knopik, V. S. (2009). Maternal smoking during pregnancy and child outcomes: Real or spurious effect? Developmental Neuropsychology, 34, 136.
Kopp, C. B. (1989). Regulation of distress and negative emotions: A developmental view. Developmental Psychology, 25, 343354.
Laflamme, D., Pomerleau, A., & Malcuit, G. (2002). A comparison of fathers' and mothers' involvement in childcare and stimulation behaviors during free-play with their infants at 9 and 15 months. Sex Roles, 47, 507518.
Lamb, M. E. (1997). The role of father in child development (3rd ed.) Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Lamb, M. E., & Oppenheim, D. (1989). Fatherhood and father–child relationships: Five years of research. In Cath, S. H., Gurwitt, A., & Gunsberg, L. (Eds.), Fathers and their families. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.
Lesch, K. P. (2004). Gene–environment interaction and the genetics of depression. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, 29, 174184.
Leve, L. D., Kerr, D. C., Shaw, D., Ge, X., Neiderhiser, J.M., Scaramella, L.V., et al. (2010). Infant pathways to externalizing behavior: Evidence of Genotype × Environment interaction. Child Development, 81, 340356.
Leve, L. D., Neiderhiser, J. M., Ge, X., Scaramella, L. V., Conger, R. D., Reid, J. B., et al. (2007). The Early Growth and Development Study: A prospective adoption design. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 10, 8495.
Leve, L. D., Neiderhiser, J. M., Scaramella, L. V., & Reiss, D. (2008). The Early Growth and Development Study: Using the prospective adoption design to examine genotype–environment interplay. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 40, 11061115.
Lieb, R., Isensee, B., Höfler, M., Pfister, H., & Wittchen, H. (2002). Parental major depression and the risk of depression and other mental disorders in offspring: A prospective-longitudinal community study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59, 365374.
Loeber, R., Green, S. M., Lahey, B. B., & Strouthamer-Loeber, M. (1989). Optimal informants on childhood disruptive behaviors. Development and Psychopathology, 1, 317337.
Lovejoy, M. C., Graczyk, P. A., O'Hare, E., & Neuman, G. (2000). Maternal depression and parenting behavior: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 20, 561592.
Masten, A. S., Roisman, G. I., Long, J. D., Burt, K. B., Obradovic, J., Riley, J. R., et al. (2005). Developmental cascades: Linking academic achievement, externalizing and internalizing symptoms over 20 years. Developmental Psychology, 41, 733746.
McBride, B. A., & Mills, G. (1993). A comparison of mother and father involvement with their preschool age children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 8, 457477.
McGue, M., Keyes, M., Sharma, A., Elkins, I., Legrand, L., Johnson, W., et al. (2007). The environments of adopted and non-adopted youth: Evidence on range restriction from the Sibling Interaction Behavior Study (SIBS). Behavior Genetics, 37, 449462.
McNeil, T. F., Cantor-Graae, E., & Sjostrom, K. (1994). Obstetric complications as antecedents of schizophrenia: Empirical effects of using different obstetic complication scales. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 28, 519530.
McNeil, T. F., & Sjöström, K. (1994). The McNeil–Sjöström OC Scale: A comprehensive scale for measuring obstetric complications. Malmö, Sweden: Lund University/Malmö General Hospital.
Mezulis, A. H., Hyde, J. S., & Clark, R. (2004). Father involvement moderates the effect of maternal depression during a child's infancy on child behavior problems in kindergarten. Journal of Family Psychology, 18, 575588.
Molenaar, P. (1996). THEIL: A FORTRAN program for robust covariance matrix estimation. Unpublished manuscript.
Natsuaki, M. N., Ge, X., Neiderhiser, J. M., & Reiss, D. (in press). Genetic liability, environment, and the development of fussiness in toddlers: The roles of maternal depression and parental responsiveness. Developmental Psychology.
Nicodemus, K. K., Marenco, S., Batten, A. J., Vakkalanka, R., Egan, M. F., Straub, R., et al. (2008). Serious obstretric complications interact with hypoxia-regulated/vascular-expression genes to influence schizophrenia risk. Molecular Psychiatry, 13, 873877.
Perez, S. M., & Gauvain, M. (2007). The sociocultural context of transitions in early socioemotional development. In Brownell, C. A. & Kopp, C. B. (Eds.), Socioemotional development in the toddler years: Transitions and transformations. New York: Guilford Press.
Porges, S. W., Doussard-Roosevelt, J. A., Portales, L. A., & Suess, P. E. (1994). Cardiac vagal tone: Stability and relation to difficultness in infants and 3-year-olds. Developmental Psychobiology, 27, 289300.
Orvaschel, H., Walsh-Allis, G., & Ye, W. (1988). Psychopathology in children of parents with recurrent depressive. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 16, 1728.
Oyserman, D., Mowbray, C. T., Meares, P. A., & Firminger, K. B. (2000). Parenting among mothers with a serious mental illness. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 70, 296315.
Radke-Yarrow, M. (1998). Children of depressed mothers: From early childhood to maturity. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Reyno, S. M., & McGrath, P. J. (2006). Predictors of parent training efficacy for child externalizing behavior problem—A meta-analytic review. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 99111.
Rice, F., Harold, G. T., & Thaper, A. (2002). Assessing the effects of age, sex and shared environment on the genetic etiology of depression in childhood and adolescence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43, 10391051.
Robinson, M., Oddy, W. H., Li, J., Kendall, G. E., de Klerk, N. H., Silburn, S. R., et al. (2008). Pre- and postnatal influences on preschool mental health: A large-scale cohort study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49, 11181128.
Rook, K. S., Pietromonaco, P. R., & Lewis, M. A. (1994). When are dysphoric individuals distressing to others and vice versa? Effects of friendship, similarity, and interaction task. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 548559.
Rowe, M. L., Pan, B. A., & Ayoub, C. (2005). Predictors of variation in maternal talk to children: A longitudinal study of low-income families. Parenting: Science and Practice, 5, 285310.
Rutter, M. (2000). Resilience reconsidered: Conceptual considerations, empirical findings, and policy implications. In Shonkoff, J. P. & Meisels, S. J. (Eds.), Handbook of early childhood intervention (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Shaw, D. S., Bell, R. Q., & Gilliom, M. (2000). A truly early starter model of antisocial behavior revisited. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 3, 157172.
Shaw, D. S., Connell, A., Dishion, T. J., Wilson, M. N., & Gardner, F. (2009). Improvements in maternal depression as a mediator of intervention effects on early child problem behavior. Development and Psychopathology, 21, 417439.
Shaw, D. S., Gilliom, J., Ingoldsby, E. M., & Nagin, D. (2003). Trajectories leading to school-age conduct problems. Developmental Psychology, 39, 189200.
Shaw, D. S., Schonberg, M., Sherrill, J., Huffman, D., Lukon, J., Obrosky, D., et al. (2006). Responsivity to offspring's expression of emotion among childhood–onset depressed mothers. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 35, 490503.
Stansbury, K., & Gunnar, M. R. (1994). Adrenocortical activity and emotion regulation. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59, 250283.
Sullivan, P. F., Neale, M. C., & Kendler, K. S. (2000). Genetic epidemiology of major depression: Review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157, 15521562.
Tannenbaum, L., & Forehand, R. (1994). Maternal depressive mood: The role of the father in preventing adolescent problem behaviors. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 32, 321325.
Teti, D. M., & Gelfand, D. M. (1991). Behavioral competence among mothers of infants in the first year: The mediational role of maternal self-efficacy. Child Development, 62, 918929.
Tiedje, L. B., & Darling-Fisher, C. S. (1993). Factors that influence fathers' participation in child care. Health Care for Women International, 14, 99107.
Tremblay, R. E., & Nagin, D. S. (2005). The developmental origins of physical aggression in humans. In Tremblay, R. E., Hartup, W. H., & Archer, J. (Eds.), Developmental origins of aggression (pp. 83106). New York: Guilford Press.
Tully, E. C., Iacono, W. G., & McGue, M. (2008). An adoption study of parental depression as an environmental liability for adolescent depression and childhood disruptive disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 165, 11481154.
Üstün, T. B., Ayuso-Mateos, J. L., Chatterji, S., Mathers, C., & Murray, C. J. L. (2004). Global burden of depressive disorders in the year 2000. British Journal of Psychiatry, 184, 386392.
Wakschlag, L. S., Leventhal, B. L., Pine, D. S., Pickett, K. E., & Carter, A. S. (2006). Elucidating early mechanisms of developmental psychopathology: The case of prenatal smoking and disruptive behavior. Child Development, 77, 893906.
Weissman, M. M., Gammon, G. D., John, K., Merikangas, K. R., Warner, V., Prusoff, B. A., et al. (1987). Children of depressed parents: Increased psychopathology and early onset of major depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 44, 847853.
Weissman, M. M., Pilowsky, D. J., Wickramaratne, P. J., Talati, A., Wisniewski, S. R., Fava, M., et al. (2006). Remissions in maternal depression and child psychopathology: A STAR*D-Child report. Journal of the American Medical Association, 295, 13891398.
Weissman, M. M., Wolk, S., Wickramaratne, P., Goldstein, R. B., Adams, P., Greenwald, S., et al. (1999). Children with prepubertal-onset major depressive disorder and anxiety grown up. Archives of General Psychiatry, 56, 794801.
Welner, Z., Reich, W., Herjanic, B., Jung, K., & Amado, H. (1987). Reliability, validity and parent–child agreement studies of the Diagnostic Interview for Children and Adolescents (DICA). Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 236, 649653.
Wille, D. E. (1995). The 1990s: Gender differences in parenting roles. Sex Roles, 33, 803817.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Influence of parental depressive symptoms on adopted toddler behaviors: An emerging developmental cascade of genetic and environmental effects

  • Caroline K. Pemberton (a1), Jenae M. Neiderhiser (a1), Leslie D. Leve (a2), Misaki N. Natsuaki (a3), Daniel S. Shaw (a4), David Reiss (a5) and Xiaojia Ge (a6)...


Altmetric attention score

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.