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Title page for ETD etd-06192012-144801

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Reising, Michelle Marshall
Author's Email Address michelle.m.reising@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-06192012-144801
Title The Effects of Chronic Stress on Executive Function, Coping, and Prefrontal Function in Children of Depressed Parents
Degree PhD
Department Psychology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Dr. Bruce Compas Committee Chair
Dr. Adam Anderson Committee Member
Dr. David Cole Committee Member
Dr. Sohee Park Committee Member
  • coping
  • executive function
  • prefrontal cortex
  • anterior cingulate cortex
  • chronic stress
Date of Defense 2012-05-24
Availability unrestricted
Children exposed to chronic stress, including the stress associated with parental depression, have been found to have impairment in their ability to coping with such stress. Chronic stress leads to damage to the prefrontal regions of the brain responsible for higher order executive functions, foundational to the implementation of adaptive coping strategies. The current research examined these previously separate lines of research through two studies.

Study I examined the effects of chronic stress on executive function, processing speed, secondary control coping, and symptoms of psychopathology in 65 children of mothers with (n=35) and without (n= 30) a history of depression. Study II examined the potential neural underpinnings of these processes through examining activation in the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex in response to a working memory task in a sub-sample of 16 children (8 children of depressed mothers, 8 children of non-depressed mothers) from Study I.

Consistent with previous research, Study I demonstrated that chronic stress exposure was related to less use of adaptive coping and greater symptoms of psychopathology and coping was a significant predictor of symptoms of psychopathology across the two groups.

Study II demonstrated that the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (DACC) were activated in response to a working memory task across the two groups. Despite similar performance across the two groups, children of depressed mothers demonstrated less activation in the anterior prefrontal cortex and in one cluster within the DACC but greater activation in another cluster within the DACC. Activation within these brain regions was related to greater stress exposure and less use of adaptive coping across the two groups, suggesting a model of compensatory activation. Analyses further revealed that activation in the DLPFC, DACC, and anterior prefrontal cortex accounted for the association between chronic stress exposure and less use of adaptive coping. The findings from these studies provide further evidence that chronic stress exposure impedes adaptive coping through injury to the regions responsible for higher order cognition, including coping.

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