Post-secondary maternal education buffers against neural risk for psychological vulnerability to future life stress

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Abstract

We have previously reported that threat-related amygdala activity measured during a baseline fMRI scan predicts the experience of depression and anxiety associated with stressful life events years later. Here, we examine whether two broad measures of childhood environmental enrichment, namely parental educational achievement and subjective parental socioeconomic status, buffer against the effects of amygdala activity on future vulnerability to stress. Analyses of data available from 579 young adults revealed that maternal, but not paternal, educational achievement moderates the association between amygdala activity, recent life stress, and changes in mood and anxiety symptoms, even when controlling for participants' current subjective socioeconomic status. Specifically, only participants reporting lower maternal educational achievement exhibited our previously observed interaction between amygdala activity and future life stress predicting increases in depression and anxiety. These results suggest that higher maternal educational achievement may help buffer stress sensitivity associated with heightened threat-related amygdala activity.

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