University of Copenhagen, Hvidovre Hospital, Denmark & Aalborg University
Processing of infant emotion in mothers with mood disorders and implications for infant development
Background Atypical neurocognitive responses to emotional stimuli are core features of unipolar depression (UD) and bipolar disorder (BD). For mothers with these mood disorders, this may influence interactions with their infants and consequently infant development. The study aimed to investigate psychophysiological and cognitive responses to infant emotional stimuli, and their relation to mother–infant interaction and infant development, in mothers with BD or UD in full or partial remission. Methods Four months after birth, mothers’ cognitive responses to emotional infant stimuli were assessed with computerized tasks, while their facial expressions, galvanic skin responses (GSR), gazes, and fixations were recorded. Infant development and mother–infant interactions were also assessed. Data was gathered and analyzed using iMotions Software Platform.
Results We included 76 mothers: 27 with BD, 13 with UD, and 36 without known psychiatric disorders, and their infants. Mothers with BD and UD were in full or partial remission and showed blunted GSR and spent less time looking at infant stimuli (unadjusted p values < 0.03). Mothers with BD showed subtle positive neurocognitive biases (unadjusted p values<0.04) and mothers with UD showed negative biases (unadjusted p values < 0.02). Across all mothers, some measures of atypical infant emotion processing correlated with some measures of delays in infant development and suboptimal mother–infant interaction (unadjusted p values<0.04). Conclusions Mothers with mood disorders in full or partial remission showed atypical cognitive and psychophysiological response to emotional infant stimuli, which could be associated with mother–infant interactions and infant development. The study is explorative, hypothesis generating, and should be replicated in a larger sample. Investigation of the long-term implications of reduced maternal sensitivity is warranted.