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Mothers and babies to wear head-cams as part of mental health study

Interactions between mothers and their babies will be filmed using head cameras in a bid to find out how a mother's mental health and personality affects child's mental health, researchers have said.

Interactions between mothers and their babies will be filmed using head cameras in a bid to find out how a mother's mental health and personality affects her child's mental health, researchers have said.

The Bristol University study will involve mothers and infants donning headband-mounted cameras to alleviate problems in the study of parenting, including the participants behaving differently because they are being watched.

Rebecca Pearson a lecturer in psychiatric epidemiology, from Bristol Medical School's Centre for Academic Mental Health, who is leading the five-year project, said it was known that if a parent has mental health problems their child is at greater risk of mental health problems, but little was known about how the risk was transmitted.

Mixed reactions

Of the head cameras

Interactions between mothers and their babies will be filmed using head cameras in a bid to find out how a mother's mental health and personality affects her child's mental health, researchers have said.


A new mental health study will look at the interaction between new mothers and babies
Picture: iStock

The Bristol University study will involve mothers and infants donning headband-mounted cameras to alleviate problems in the study of parenting, including the participants behaving differently because they are being watched.

Rebecca Pearson a lecturer in psychiatric epidemiology, from Bristol Medical School's Centre for Academic Mental Health, who is leading the five-year project, said it was known that if a parent has mental health problems their child is at greater risk of mental health problems, but little was known about how the risk was transmitted.

Mixed reactions

Of the head cameras she said: 'The reason for doing that is that parenting is interesting but it has been a major problem that you can't get a reliable assessment... you want to observe behaviour, but you either have to then get people to come in or you have to go to their home and people react differently if there is somebody there.'

Dr Pearson said there were two benefits to the method, firstly that it allowed families to collect the data in their own time and space and secondly that the placement of the cameras – on a little headband – captured interactions from the viewpoint of the participants.

The researchers will study the interactions between 300 mothers and infants and it is hoped that the results will be able to be used to improve child mental health, by identifying where the cycle of mental health risk across generations can be broken, and by finding out the best ways to support families.

Past study

The mothers were themselves studied as children as part of Children of the 90s project, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a long-term health-research project that enrolled more than 14,000 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992.

They will be sent a kit when their child nears six months old and asked to record specific interactions such as meal times and playing with a new toy provided by the researchers for a minimum of two days over a two-week period.

Dr Pearson said: 'Our hypothesis based on previous research is that depressed and anxious mothers are a little bit fearful almost of a crying baby, they find it difficult to regulate and that is why they struggle to interact and then the baby picks that up, and the cycle continues.'

They will also carry out analyses of existing population and intervention studies and will use data from several international cohorts to look at the genetic and environmental factors that could affect mother and child mental health and ask mothers to wear eye-tracking devices to study cognition.

The study builds on previous work, published in Psychological Medicine, by the team which looked at over 8,000 parents and children in Children of the 90s and found that the children of women with personality traits associated with emotional and relationship difficulties were at greater risk of depression, anxiety and self-harm in their late teens than their peers.


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