Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

James F. Paulson (Director)

Committee Member

J. D. Ball (Eastern Virginia Medical School)

Committee Member

Michelle L. Kelley

Committee Member

Desideria S. Hacker (Norfolk State University)

Committee Member

Richard W. Handel (Eastern Virginia Medical School)


Perinatal depression has been recognized as a public health problem in the United States, which is important because of the demonstrated wide-reaching negative effects of maternal depression on child outcomes. Some evidence suggests that maternal depression is a risk factor for executive dysfunction in children. By contrast, there is abundant evidence that maternal depression is a risk factor for later child depression. Therefore, this study focuses on executive dysfunction in children as a potential trait marker for later depression in childhood and adolescence, utilizing data from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Participants were from 10 locations around the United States. Measures assessed postnatal depressive symptoms (Center of Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, CES-D), inhibition in children (Conners Continuous Performance Test, CPT), inhibition and information updating in children (Tower of Hanoi, TOH, and Tower of London, TOL), inhibition and set shifting in children (Stroop Test), and internalizing behaviors in children (Child Behavior Checklist, CBCL). Maternal depression was grouped based on trajectory: no depression, postpartum depression, early childhood depression, and chronic depression. A series of ANCOVAs and MANCOVAs were conducted to examine: a) whether early chronic maternal depression would be associated with lower scores on measures of executive function among children in 1st grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, and at 15 years of age; and b) whether children with depressed mothers who experience executive dysfunction would be more likely to experience subsequent depressive symptoms; that is, whether the relationship between maternal depression and later child internalizing behaviors would be mediated by child executive dysfunction. Overall, findings revealed that all courses of maternal depression were associated with later child depression and child inhibition and information updating deficits at grade 1 in males only. Additionally, early childhood and chronic depression were associated with inhibition and information updating deficits at grade 5 in males. Other exploratory analyses are discussed.


The VIRGINIA CONSORTIUM PROGRAM IN CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY is a joint program of Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk State University, and Old Dominion University.


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