Do mothers depressive cognitions predict offspring’s cognitive style in adulthood? Am.Jl.Psy.April.2013


Preventing depression is an enormous  public health challenge.Negative life events are known to trigger depression.We may not be able to prevent negative events in life, but preventing  the depressogenic interpretation of events is possible. Depressogenic interpretations include the tendency to attribute negative events to causes that are internal ( I caused it), stable (it will not change) and global (everything is like this).

How do we develop depressogenic cognitive style? Genetic factors play a small role. Experiences play a crucial role. Explanations provided by mother/other significant figures might be important in shaping one’s cognitive style. Studies have suggested that negative and critical maternal feedback is associated with depressogenic  cognitive styles in children.If there is  such an  association between cognitive styles of mother and child,  is it mediated through maternal depression? ( ie cognitive style of mother might be linked to maternal depression and this could increase the risk of depression in offspring)

Rebecca M. Pearson,  Charles Fernyhough,  Richard Bentall, Jonathan Evans, Jon Heron,Carol Joinson, Alan L. Stein and  Glyn Lewis from UK investigated the nature of association between maternal cognitive style measured during pregnancy and offspring cognitive style 18 years later and explored how any such association was related to  maternal depression.Data from 2528 mothers ( cognitive  style and depression) and children (cognitive style and depression at age 18) was analysed.


A positive association between maternal and offspring cognitive style was observed. Maternal depression  did increase the offspring depressogenic cognitive style score. When maternal cognitive style was taken in to account this increase was much less only. An increase of approximately one standard deviation in maternal cognitive style score was associated with an increase of approximately 0.1 standard deviations in offspring cognitive style score at age 18.Maternal and offspring cognitive styles explained 21% of the association between maternal and offspring depression.

Is this association due to link between maternal and offspring depression? Association remained after adjustments for maternal and offspring depression, indicating that this alone do not explain the association,it might be that maternal and child cognitive styles mediate a significant part of the association between maternal and offspring depression.

Strength of the study: large sample size with the long-term follow-up spanning the life of offspring from before birth into adulthood. information about  confounding variables available ( eg concurrent measures of both maternal and offspring depression).

Limitations: Measurement of maternal and offspring cognitive style differed. Lack of a parenting measure limits our understanding as to how maternal cognitive style influenced the offspring.

Conclusions: Cognitive styles appear to be transmitted to offsprings. This might be one potential pathway linking maternal to offspring depression that is modifiable/preventable.Maternal cognitive style could be modified using CBT approaches. It can be treated with medications if part of depression. These will help in preventing transmission by observation/imitation/absorption  of cognitive styles.

This is the first study to provide evidence for an influence, persisting into early adulthood, of a mother’s cognitive style on her offspring’s cognitive style.

Summary of the article:

Association between maternal depressogenic cognitive style during pregnancy and offspring cognitive style 18 years later.

Pearson RM, Fernyhough C, Bentall R, Evans J, Heron J, Joinson C, Stein AL, Lewis G.Am J Psychiatry. 2013 Apr 1;170(4):434-41

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