In detail

Depression in parents influences adolescent risk behaviors

Depression in parents influences adolescent risk behaviors


  • 1 Depression and risk behaviors
  • 2 Bases of the study
  • 3 Conclusions

Depression and risk behaviors

Recent research suggests that the depression of parents influences greater brain activity in the areas linked to making risks in teenagers.

This higher brain activity is likely to lead to greater risk taking as well as to conduct rule violation behaviors.

Although previous research had already shown the association between parents with clinical depression and its teenage children With a higher risk assumption index, this new study is the first to find the corresponding changes in the brains of adolescents.

"This is the first empirical evidence that parental depression influences children's behavior through change in the adolescent's brain," said the University of Illinois (UI) graduate student Yang Qu, who led the study with the psychology professor Dr. Eva Telzer that was published in the magazine Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

"There are a lot of changes that occur in adolescence, especially when we talk about risky behaviors," Telzer said.

Basis of the study

For the study, the researchers followed up a group of 23 adolescents, between 15 and 17 years of age, who underwent a series of cognitive and brain imaging tests at the beginning and at the end of the study that lasted 18 months

The researchers used Functional Magnetic Resonance imaging to measure changes in oxygen levels in the blood of the brain, while study subjects had to intermittently press a button to inflate a computerized globe.

The goal was to inflate the balloon as much as possible without blowing it up. The more clicks on the button to make it swell, the greater monetary reward they would receive, but if the balloon exploded, nothing was earned.

According to Telzer, teenagers who normally showed riskier behaviors in real life also did so during the experiment, causing the balloon to more easily explode.

The researchers also collected information about the rule violation behavior in adolescents, such as sneaking away without parental permission, substance abuse, etc.

The parental depression It was measured by collecting data from parents about their own depressive symptoms by asking them to respond to statements such as "I could not get rid of sadness" or "Everything I do represents an effort."

Telzer and Qu measured these symptoms in parents who were not currently being treated for clinical depression.

The researchers found that adolescents whose parents had higher depressive symptoms increased their risk-taking over the course of the study. The research team also observed how changes occurred in how the brains of adolescents responded to risk taking.

"At the neuronal level, it shows an increase in activation time in the ventral striatum," Telzer said. "The ventral striatum is a key region of the brain involved in risk taking, and has also been linked in some studies of depression."


These new results help explain the relationship between parental depression and adolescent risk behaviorssaid Qu.

"Even if he is not clinically depressed and does not seek help, a child will probably realize the negative emotions that his / her father / s may be experiencing," Telzer said.

This unconscious knowledge can influence adolescent risk behaviors and also shape the way their brains respond to risk situations.

Source: University of Illinois