University of Pittsburgh
September 12, 1999



Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 13 -- Children of depressed mothers performed more poorly in school readiness, verbal comprehension and expressive language skills at 3 years of age than children of mothers who never reported depression, according to a study on child care taking place at the University of Pittsburgh and nine other sites across the country. However, even if the mothers were depressed, if they were sensitive and respectful of their children, those youngsters fared better. The study is published in the September issue of Developmental Psychology.

Pitt professors of psychology Susan B. Campbell and Celia Brownell are participating in the ongoing National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care.

"This study is probably the largest ever to examine the link between maternal depression and maternal responsiveness in the early years of a child's life," said Campbell. "It clearly demonstrates the importance of considering both maternal sensitivity and the duration of the depression in trying to explain the association between maternal depression and children's early cognitive and socio-emotional development."

This study observed 1,215 mothers and children, including 115 Pittsburgh area families, from the time the children were 1 month to 36 months old.

Key findings of the study:

• Children of mothers who had more prolonged depression were seen as less cooperative, and those mothers reported more problem behaviors in their children than mothers who were never depressed. These children also scored lower on tests of school readiness, expressive language, and verbal comprehension.

• Children whose mothers were more sensitive, respectful and supportive of their children fared better on cognitive and language tests and were more cooperative.

• Depression can lead to less sensitive maternal behavior which, in turn, leads to poorer child development.