Parental Punitive Discipline and Children’s Depressive Symptoms: Associations with Striatal Volume

Publication Date:
Sep 2019
Project Programs:
Integrating Biology and Social Science Knowledge

Although parental harshness has been consistently linked with increased depressive symptoms in youth, its associations with children's brain structure are not well understood. The striatum has been strongly implicated in depression in adolescents and adults. In this study, we investigated the associations among parental harsh discipline, striatal volume, and depressive symptoms in children. Participants were parents and their 5- to 9-year-old children (63% female; 29% African American; 47% Hispanic/Latino). Parents completed questionnaires about their parenting behaviors and children's depressive symptoms. Children participated in a high-resolution, T1-weighted MRI scan, and volumetric data for the caudate, putamen, and nucleus accumbens were extracted (n = 20 with both parenting and MRI data; n = 48 with both MRI and depressive symptom data). Findings indicated that more frequent parental harsh discipline was significantly associated with smaller dorsal striatal volume (caudate plus putamen). In addition, smaller dorsal striatal volume was significantly associated with increased depressive symptoms in children. These associations remained significant after accounting for child age, sex, whole brain volume, and parental depressive symptoms. These findings suggest that parental harsh discipline may be associated with children's striatal volume, which may in turn be associated with their level of depressive symptoms.


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