The impact of maternal depression and overcrowded housing on associations between autonomic nervous system reactivity and externalizing behavior problems in vulnerable Latino children

Psychophysiology. 2016 Jan;53(1):97-104. doi: 10.1111/psyp.12539.


The study of autonomic nervous system responses and contextual factors has shed light on the development of children's negative outcomes, but the majority of these studies have not focused on minority populations living under adversity. To address these gaps, the current longitudinal study included a sample of poor, immigrant Latino families to examine whether associations between children's autonomic nervous system reactivity at 6 months and their externalizing behavior problems at 7 years of age were moderated by two risk factors associated with poverty: the interpersonal factor of chronic maternal depression and the environmental factor of chronic overcrowded housing. Multiple linear regression (N = 99) revealed that children who exhibited less parasympathetic nervous system withdrawal in response to challenge during infancy had more externalizing problems during childhood only if they had mothers who experienced chronic depression. Children who exhibited greater sympathetic nervous system reactivity during infancy had the lowest levels of externalizing problems during childhood only if they had mothers who chronic depression. Chronic overcrowded housing did not moderate associations between physiological reactivity and level of externalizing problems. These findings extend our understanding of the interaction of physiology and context on child outcomes to the understudied population of impoverished Latino families.

Keywords: Autonomic nervous system; Externalizing behavior problems; Latino; Maternal depression; Overcrowding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • California / ethnology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / ethnology
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Crowding / psychology*
  • Depression / ethnology
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / psychology
  • Female
  • Hispanic Americans / psychology*
  • Housing*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Problem Behavior / psychology*
  • Risk
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology*