The PI is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Cal State San Marcos. Her long-term goal is to sustain an independent research career examining mechanisms between socio-cultural factors, maternal affect and infant outcomes in the perinatal period.
The aim of the proposed research is to examine the associations between the role of acculturation (the process of one culture adapting the norms of a majority culture), prenatal maternal mental health and subsequent stress vulnerability in infants in the US Mexican population. Three hypotheses will be tested: 1) greater maternal acculturation will predict increased levels of maternal depression and hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis activity during pregnancy;2) Greater levels of maternal acculturation and maternal depression and cortisol will predict an increase in newborn hair cortisol levels as a proxy measure of fetal HPA axis activity;3) Greater levels of maternal acculturation and depression and cortisol will predict an increased acute infant salivary cortisol response to a stressor. With information gained we will also determine if fetal cortisol levels moderate or mediate the relationship between maternal variables and infant HPA activity. The proposed research will be conducted in 185 women of Mexican descent and their infants at a community clinic that primarily attends to Latinos. This research has direct consequences for public health as the Mexican-American population is the most rapidly growing group in the US and Mexican-American women report high levels of depression during pregnancy. Socio-cultural variables may play a role in this increased risk for maternal mental health, specifically acculturation. However, the mechanism by which this occurs is unknown. In addition, the negative consequences of depression during pregnancy extend beyond the depressed individual to her offspring as the offspring of depressed mothers show altered stress responsivity and increases in neuropsychiatric disorders. Therefore, acculturation may directly also negatively impact offspring mental health via its effects on maternal depression or a direct effect itself, but this has yet to be determined. Students will directly involved at all levels of the proposed projects including recruitment and retention of participants, saliva and hair collection, sample management and performance of cortisol assays. The proposed project will provide critical translational research experience for students, with an emphasis on encouraging racial/ethnic minority students in higher education, in line with the missions of CSUSM and AREA. This study directly addresses an NIH priority area "on cultural differences of stress and coping to understand the mechanics by which culturally related stressors affect health" and provides a foundation that can lead to prenatal interventions directed toward acculturation in the high-risk Mexican-American population.
The Mexican-American population is the most rapidly growing group in the US and Mexican-American women report greater levels of depression during pregnancy relative to their US counterparts. The proposed research will examine the association between cultural factors and increased risk for mental health during pregnancy, as well as evaluate the effect of acculturation on increased stress vulnerability in infants, a significant risk factor for development for mental health disorders. The information obtained from the proposed research will aid in the design and development of future programs aimed at early identification of those at risk for mental health disorders for the US Mexican population. The proposed project will provide critical translational research experience for students, with an emphasis on encouraging racial/ethnic minority students in higher education, in line with the missions of CSUSM and AREA.