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Sparks of inhibition.

By the time many infants of depressed mothers reach 6 months of age, the electrical activity in their brains appears to have assumed a pattern similar to that documented in socially withdrawn children and depressed adults, a new study finds.

What triggers this pattern--marked by much more prominent electrical activity on the right side of the frontal lobe than on the left--remains unknown. But prior work suggests that emotions linked to social engagement spark left frontal activity, whereas feelings associated with social withdrawal strengthen right frontal activity, note Tiffany Field, a psychologist at the University of Miami School of Medicine, and her colleagues.

If the greater right frontal electrical activity seen in the babies of depressed mothers persists over time, "it may be useful as a biological marker of infant vulnerability toward an anxious or fearful disposition. . . and may in fact be an important predictor of subsequent behavioral disorders," Field's team writes in the May Developmental Psychology.

Alternatively, a bias toward right frontal electrical activity may reflect a baby's temporary emotional response to the presence of a depressed mother, the researchers note.

A total of 16 boys and 16 girls, all 3 to 6 months old, wore a stretchable cap containing electrodes for 3 minutes while seated on their mothers' laps. In separate sessions, mothers--all single, low-income adolescents who were either black or Hispanic--wore electrode caps, which measured electrical activity over much of the front half of the brain's surface.

A standard interview and questionnaire identified 17 mothers as at least moderately depressed.

Right frontal electrical activity substantially exceeded that for left frontal regions in 12 of 17 infants of depressed mothers, compared to 2 of 15 infants of nondepressed mothers. The same electrical pattern characterized 10 of 17 depressed mothers but only 3 of 15 nondepressed mothers.

Other experiments, directed by study coauthor Nathan A. Fox of the University of Maryland at College Park, find a right frontal activation bias in fearful and shy infants and preschoolers, none of whom has a depressed mother.
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Title Annotation:infants of depressed mothers show more prominent electrical activity on right side of frontal lobe than infants of mothers who are depression-free
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 27, 1995
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