To study how depression affects the maternal-child bond, Dr. Ed Tronick, Program Director for the Child Development Unit at Children's Hospital in Boston and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, developed the Still-Face study.
In this footage, non-depressed mothers are instructed to play normally with their children, then upon cue, to change their affect and simulate depression by becoming non-responsive.
The effect on the child is dramatic. Children almost immediately detect the change and attempt to solicit the mother's attention. Failing to elicit a response, they turn away only to look back at the mother repeatedly. But when the childrens' attempts fail to repair the interaction, infants often lose postural control, withdraw and self comfort. The disengagement is profound even with this short disruption of normal communication. Tronick notes that the experiment changes children's emotional states. They display sadness or anger and act helpless--similar to depressed mothers.
Tronick has also done more naturalistic studies with depressed mothers in their homes that reveals the same dynamic.
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