Researchers from Cambridge University discovered that children who witnessed six months or more of intermittent arguments had more difficulty processing and understanding emotions than those who grew up in a more amicable home environment.
The study consisted of 238 boys and girls aged between 15 and 18 from schools in Cambridge and Suffolk. The researchers started by taking genetic tests to identify a certain gene thought to regulate serotonin, otherwise known as the ‘feel-good hormone’.
This serotonin-regulating gene (known technically as 5-HTTLPR) is inherited directly from our parents. There are two versions of this gene – one is known as the ‘long variant’ and the other is known as the ‘short variant’. Previous research has found that people with the short variant are more likely to become depressed than those with the long variant.
The Cambridge researchers then put the 238 teenagers through a series of computer interviews that asked questions about their parents and home lives, such as whether they had ever witnessed physical or verbal violence between their parents.
Then, the volunteers were asked to make quick decisions about whether the emotional meaning of a certain word e.g. ‘joyful’, or ‘failure’, was negative, positive, or neutral.
The results from the computer tests showed that children with short variations of the gene did worse on the emotions test and were also more likely to have witnessed frequent arguments in the home whilst growing up.
Specifically, 36% of the 18.5% of short gene teens had coped with difficult family situations in early childhood.
The children who performed poorly in the test were two to eight times more likely to develop depression in the next year than those who achieved a high score.
Senior team member Barbara Sahakian believes the test could help catch depression early. She said: “Effective, early treatment may prevent the course of depression from becoming chronic and relapsing. This will be of great benefit to the individual’s well-being, and the ability to function at school, work and home.”
To find out more, or to find out how a counsellor could help you, please visit our page about Depression. If you are suffering marital problems, you may find our page about Couples Counselling useful.
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