Childhood depressive disorder symptoms: relations with two physiological indices of emotion regulation

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Theoretical models of depression postulate that one's ability to regulate emotions may be a core factor in the development of depressive disorder symptoms. The present study aimed to understand how physiological measures of emotion regulation are related to depressive disorder symptoms among a community sample of 7-10 year-old children. Specifically, we sought to investigate how resting heart rate variability and the change in heart rate variability from a resting baseline to a stressor are related to child- and-caregiver- reported depressive symptomology. The children's physiological measures (i.e., heartbeat patterns, respiration) used to calculate high-frequency heart rate variability for each task were collected as the child sat quietly (3 minutes), watched a relaxing Coral Reef video (3 minutes), traced a star pattern while looking in a mirror (3 minutes), and played Hungry, Hungry Hippos on an iPad (3 minutes). In addition, children and their primary caregivers completed a series of questionnaires about the child and family demographics and child's depressive disorder symptoms. We conducted bivariate correlations, paired samples t-tests, multiple regression analyses (controlling for age, gender, and mean respiration rate at baseline) to examine the relations between both resting heart rate variability and change in heart rate variability in response to a stressor or positive task and child- and caregiver-reported depressive disorder symptoms. We found a significant relation between the child-reported depressive disorders and the change in HRV from resting baseline (traditional and video) to the stress task. However, we did not find that gender moderated this relation, nor did we find any significant relations between the resting baseline (traditional and video) and child-or-caregiver-reported depressive symptoms. Finally, not associations were found between and the change in HRV from resting baseline (video) or the Mirror Star Tracer task Baseline to the Hungry Hungry Hippo task and child-or-caregiver-reported depressive symptoms. Future research should consider the nature of the task demands relative to arousal and also the diversity and size of the sample. Our findings demonstrated a unique pattern in HRV change from resting baseline (traditional and video) to a stress task that allow for new questions to be asked and a foundation for further research.




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