Now research from a University of Rochester team helps to explain why chronic stress and parenting are such a toxic mix. The study finds that ongoing strains, like poverty or depression, disrupt the body's natural stress response, making mothers more likely to engage in a host of problematic parenting behaviors, including neglect, hostility, and insensitivity.
"Stress gets under your skin," explains Melissa Sturge-Apple, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and lead author on the Development and Psychopathology paper to be published October 19. "It literally changes the way a mother's body responds to the normal demands of small children and those changes make it much harder to parent positively."
Although the effects of stress have been well documented in children and linked to a variety of diseases in adults, this is one of the first studies to look specifically at stress and parenting, according to the researchers. The findings point to the corrosive effects of poverty or depression on an individual's physiology and help to explain why people feel and act the way they do when faced with ongoing psychological or economic pressure, she says.
"Stress is not just in our heads, it's in our bodies," says Sturge-Apple.
This is also the first study to measure physiological stress response in real time, says Fred Rogosch, research director at the University of Rochester's Mt. Hope Family Center and a fellow author on the paper. Participants' reactions were captured using a novel wireless electrocardiograph (ECG) monitor developed for the study by University of Rochester engineers Zeljko Ignjatovic and Wendi Heinzelman. The unobtrusive device allowed the team to analyze subtle changes in participants' heart rhythms as they were happening, providing a non-behavioral window into how the study moms were reacting. Other methods, such as measuring the stress hormone cortisol, require a 20-minute delay and are not nearly as precise, explains Rogosch.
The new monitor could become an important tool for measuring stress outside of the lab, the authors write. For example, it could be used in clinical settings as a kind of emotional biofeedback monitor, giving therapists a way to quantitatively gage which therapies work best for alleviating negative emotions, according to the researchers.
In the study, the researchers observed 153 mothers and their 17-to-19-month-old children in individual two-hour sessions. Using the wireless ECG monitor, each mother's stress response was measured during a mildly distressing situation in which her child was left with a stranger for a few minutes. Later the mother and toddler were videotaped during unstructured playtime together.
The study showed that a mother's stress system can be compromised by becoming either overactive or underactive. In mothers with higher depressive symptoms, stress responses were "hyperactive", the researchers found. These moms' heart rate patterns began higher, then spiked when their toddler was upset. After the mom was reunited with the child, their heart rate pattern remained elevated. During the free-play sessions, mothers with hyperactive stress responses engaged in the highest levels of hostility with their toddler, including derogatory comments, angry tone of voice, and rough physical interaction.
Although the popular image of depression is of someone who is listless and sad, Sturge-Apple points out that the study confirms what clinicians have long observed: that depression in mothers sometimes is linked to harsh, highly reactive parenting, not subdued mothering. This study helps to explain the biological basis of such behavior; the stress response systems of moms suffering from depression are on high alert, oversensitive to social stressors and unable to calm down, explains Sturge-Apple.
By contrast, study participants who struggled with poverty and lived in high-crime neighborhoods exhibited underactive, or "hypoactive," stress response systems. Their heart rates patterns began lower and rose little during their child's distress. During free play, these parents showed the highest levels of disengagement along with intrusive parenting. Although instructed to play with their children, these mothers were more likely to ignore their little ones and not respond to children's bids for attention or play. When they were engaged, mothers with hyporesponsive stress activity were overbearing.
The researchers argue that the dampened physiological response to a child's anguish results from the "cumulative wear and tear … of living in poverty and dangerous neighborhoods." Faced with threats and concerns on a daily basis, these moms' stress systems simply become overwhelmed, concludes Sturge-Apple.
The research was supported by the National Institute of Nursing Research. Michael Skibo, a doctoral student in social and clinical psychology at the University of Rochester, also contributed to the publication.Contact: Susan Hagen
Susan Hagen | EurekAlert!
Millions through license revenues
27.04.2017 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
New High-Performance Center Translational Medical Engineering
26.04.2017 | Fraunhofer ITEM
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
27.04.2017 | Life Sciences
27.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
27.04.2017 | Earth Sciences