Photo/IllutrationThis area on the right side of the brain that gauges the feelings of other adults becomes less active in mothers who suffer high levels of stress. (Provided by the University of Fukui)

FUKUI--When moms get stressed dealing with young children, part of the brain that helps them gauge the moods of other adults is suppressed, meaning they may mess up relationships with their peers, a group of Japanese researchers has found.

Researchers are now exploring how to apply the findings to create an index to diagnose mothers before their situation worsens and they risk becoming clinically depressed.

The team was led by Akemi Tomoda, professor of child development support at the University of Fukui. Its findings were published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, the university announced Feb. 5

In the study, the team asked 30 mothers, who are not clinically depressed and have a child aged 6 or under, to fill in a questionnaire to gauge their stress level. At the same time, mothers were asked to look at photographs of adults and children and guess what feelings or moods their facial expressions indicated.

While answering the facial expression test, the mothers underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of their brains.

The result showed that mothers who had higher maternal depressive levels and felt isolated had weaker activity in the part of the brain that recognizes the feelings of other adults.

However, the part that understood children’s feelings showed no change.

“Mothers feeling depressed during child-rearing could bruise their relationships with other adults around them,” said Tomoda. “Early detection is crucial.”