Does psychiatric history bias mothers' reports? An application of a new analytic approach

Howard D. Chilcoat, Naomi Breslau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

192 Scopus citations


Objective: To evaluate whether mothers' psychiatric history biases reports of their children's behavior problems, mothers' and teachers' reports of children's behavior problems were compared using a recently developed statistical approach. Method: Child Behavior Checklists and Teacher's Report Forms were completed by mothers and teachers, respectively, about 801 six- year-old children. Mother's history of major depression, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorder was assessed by using the National Institute of Mental Health Diagnostic Interview Schedule. Generalized estimating equations were used for data analysis. Results: According to both teachers and mothers, maternal history of major depression was associated with more internalizing problems; the association was significantly stronger when mothers were the informants. Mothers with history of any psychiatric disorder reported more externalizing problems in their children than expected, whereas teachers' reports of externalizing behaviors were unrelated to maternal psychiatric history. These findings could not be explained by variations in children's behaviors across settings. Conclusion: The generalized estimating equation models enabled simultaneous examination of whether children of depressed mothers have excess behavior problems and whether depressed mothers overreport behavior problems in their children. The results indicate that children of depressed mothers have more internalizing problems. In addition, depressed mothers overstate and overgeneralize their offspring's behavior problems. This study broadens the concerns with reporting bias beyond maternal depression to include other psychiatric problems. The results emphasize the potential for bias in family history studies that rely on informants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)971-979
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Child behavior problems
  • Generalized estimating equations
  • Informants
  • Validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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