Neural reactivity to rewards and losses in offspring of mothers and fathers with histories of depressive and anxiety disorders

Autumn Kujawa, Greg Hajcak Proudfit, Daniel N. Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


Depression appears to be characterized by reduced neural reactivity to receipt of reward. Despite evidence of shared etiologies and high rates of comorbidity between depression and anxiety, this abnormality may be relatively specific to depression. However, it is unclear whether children at risk for depression also exhibit abnormal reward responding, and if so, whether risk for anxiety moderates this association. The feedback negativity (FN) is an event-related potential component sensitive to receipt of rewards versus losses that is reduced in depression. Using a large community sample (N = 407) of 9-year-old children who had never experienced a depressive episode, we examined whether histories of depression and anxiety in their parents were associated with the FN following monetary rewards and losses. Results indicated that maternal history of depression was associated with a blunted FN in offspring, but only when there was no maternal history of anxiety. In addition, greater severity of maternal depression was associated with greater blunting of the FN in children. No effects of paternal psychopathology were observed. Results suggest that blunted reactivity to rewards versus losses may be a vulnerability marker that is specific to pure depression, but is not evident when there is also familial risk for anxiety. In addition, these findings suggest that abnormal reward responding is evident as early as middle childhood, several years prior to the sharp increase in the prevalence of depression and rapid changes in neural reward circuitry in adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-297
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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