Synchrony, or coordination of parent and child behaviors, emotions, and physiology during dyadic interactions,
is critical to the development of adaptive emotion regulation skills in youth. Parental depression, however, has
been shown to influence patterns of behavioral and physiological synchrony with their children, potentially via
depressed parents’ own use of ineffective emotion regulation strategies.
The primary goal of the present application is to use multi-method assessment to clarify whether patterns of
parent-child synchrony in middle childhood vary based on a parental history of depression. I will first establish
that such synchrony exists in both maternal- and paternal-child dyads (from different families) during middle
childhood (Aim 1). Consistent with Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) principles and National Institute of
Mental Health (NIMH) priorities, I will consider synchrony within and across systems (behavioral,
adrenocortical, and ANS synchrony) with 8-10-year-old children and their biological parents, who will provide
physiological measures of stress (autonomic nervous system activity and cortisol reactivity) while completing a
challenging task. Second, I will consider parental history of depression as a variable moderating the strength of
parent-child synchrony (Aim 2). As exploratory aims, I will also consider parental sex and parental use of
expressive suppression (ES), an emotion regulation strategy that is often overutilized among individuals with
depression (14,22), as moderators of parent-child synchrony. Third, I will analyze cross-sectional relations
between parent-child physiological synchrony and child outcomes, including internalizing symptoms and use of
ES (Aim 3).
Results from the proposed work will elucidate a potential mechanism in the intergenerational transmission of
behavior problems and emotion dysregulation. Consistent with the aims of the Academic Research
Enhancement Award (AREA) program, the current proposal represents meritorious research from which a
diverse group of undergraduates will gain significant exposure to multi-method research. Furthermore, this
project will strengthen the research environment by bringing a scientifically rigorous, federally-funded project to
the department and university.