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BACKGROUND: Impaired social functioning is a well-established feature of depression. Evidence to date suggests that disrupted processing of emotional cues may constitute part of this impairment. Beyond processing of emotional cues, fluent social interactions require that people physically move in synchronized, contingent ways. Disruptions to physical movements are a diagnostic feature of depression (psychomotor disturbance) but have not previously been assessed in the context of social functioning. Here we investigated the impact of psychomotor disturbance in depression on physical responsive behavior in both an experimental and observational setting. METHODS: In Experiment 1, we examined motor disturbance in depression in response to salient emotional sounds, using a laboratory-based effortful motor task. In Experiment 2, we explored whether psychomotor disturbance was apparent in real-life social interactions. Using mother-infant interactions as a model affective social situation, we compared physical behaviors of mothers with and without postnatal depression (PND). RESULTS: We found impairments in precise, controlled psychomotor performance in adults with depression relative to healthy adults (Experiment 1). Despite this disruption, all adults showed enhanced performance following exposure to highly salient emotional cues (infant cries). Examining real-life interactions, we found differences in physical movements, namely reduced affective touching, in mothers with PND responding to their infants, compared to healthy mothers (Experiment 2). CONCLUSIONS: Together, these findings suggest that psychomotor disturbance may be an important feature of depression that can impair social functioning. Future work investigating whether improvements in physical movement in depression could have a positive impact on social interactions would be of much interest.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Behav Neurosci

Publication Date





depression, emotion, infant crying, psychomotor performance, social interaction