Beyond Diathesis Stress: Differential Susceptibility to Environmental Influences

Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues, Birkbeck University of London, 7 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3RA, United Kingdom.
Psychological Bulletin (Impact Factor: 14.39). 11/2009; 135(6):885-908. DOI: 10.1037/a0017376
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Evolutionary-biological reasoning suggests that individuals should be differentially susceptible to environmental influences, with some people being not just more vulnerable than others to the negative effects of adversity, as the prevailing diathesis-stress view of psychopathology (and of many environmental influences) maintains, but also disproportionately susceptible to the beneficial effects of supportive and enriching experiences (or just the absence of adversity). Evidence consistent with the proposition that individuals differ in plasticity is reviewed. The authors document multiple instances in which (a) phenotypic temperamental characteristics, (b) endophenotypic attributes, and (c) specific genes function less like "vulnerability factors" and more like "plasticity factors," thereby rendering some individuals more malleable or susceptible than others to both negative and positive environmental influences. Discussion focuses upon limits of the evidence, statistical criteria for distinguishing differential susceptibility from diathesis stress, potential mechanisms of influence, and unknowns in the differential-susceptibility equation.

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Available from: Michael Pluess, Jul 20, 2015
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    • "Extending this Diathesis-Stress perspective (Zuckerman, 1999), the Differential Susceptibility framework (Belsky & Pluess, 2009) suggests that such inherent traits may not just increase vulnerability to adversity but rather sensitivity to a variety of environmental influences, with more susceptible individuals being more affected by both negative as well as positive experiences (Pluess, in press). In other words, the same characteristics that make children more vulnerable to adverse experiences may also make them more responsive to beneficial exposures (Belsky & Pluess, 2009). The proposition—derived from Differential Susceptibility reasoning—that individuals may differ generally in their response to positive experiences as a function of inherent characteristics has recently been articulated in more detail in the concept of Vantage Sensitivity (Pluess & Belsky, 2013). "
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    ABSTRACT: Treatment effects of preventative mental health interventions for adolescents tend to be relatively small. One reason for the small effects may be individual differences in the response to psychological treatment as a function of inherent characteristics, a notion proposed in the concept of Vantage Sensitivity. The current study investigated whether the personality trait Sensory-Processing Sensitivity moderated the efficacy of a new school-based intervention aimed at the prevention of depression.
    Personality and Individual Differences 08/2015; 82. DOI:10.1016/j.paid.2015.03.011 · 1.86 Impact Factor
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    • "There is mounting evidence that this is not the case, and that G x E interactions are the rule rather than the exception (e.g., Bagot & Meaney 2010; Rutter 2007). For example, a wealth of research indicates that much genetic variation among individuals influences their sensitivity to environmental influences, rather than genotype having an unconditional effect on phenotypes (e.g., Caspi et al. 2003; Belsky & Pluess 2009, see Boardman & Fletcher 2014). Although evidence of G x E interactions are not new (e.g., Hogben 1933), recent evidence documenting their prevalence is mounting with the advent of new technologies that make genotyping easier and more cost effective, especially for complex socially-mediated phenotypes (e.g., Belsky & Pluess 2013). "
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    ABSTRACT: Purpose: Heritability studies attempt to estimate the contribution of genes (vs. environments) to variation in phenotypes (or outcomes of interest) in a given population at a given time. The current chapter scrutinizes heritability studies of adverse health phenotypes, emphasizing flaws that have become more glaring in light of recent advances in the life sciences and manifest most visibly in epigenetics. Design/methodology/approach: Drawing on a diverse body of research and critical scholarship, this chapter examines the veracity of methodological and conceptual assumptions of heritability studies. Findings: The chapter argues that heritability studies are futile for two reasons: (1) heritability studies suffer from serious methodological flaws with the overall effect of making estimates inaccurate and likely biased toward inflated heritability, and, more importantly, (2) the conceptual (biological) model on which heritability studies depend—that of identifiably separate effects of genes vs. the environment on phenotype variance—is unsound. As discussed, contemporary bioscientific work indicates that genes and environments are enmeshed in a complex (bidirectional, interactional), dynamic relationship that defies any attempt to demarcate separate contributions to phenotype variance. Thus, heritability studies attempt the biologically impossible. The emerging research on the importance of microbiota is also discussed, including how the commensal relationship between microbial and human cells further stymies heritability studies. Originality/value: Understandably, few sociologists have the time or interest to be informed about the methodological and theoretical underpinnings of heritability studies or to keep pace with the incredible advances in genetics and epigenetics over the past several years. The present study aims to provide interested scholars with information about heritability and heritability estimates of adverse health outcomes in light of recent advances in the biosciences.
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    • "Alternatively, a more relativistic discourse is presented in the differential susceptibility and psychogenic needs models (Murray, 1938; Belsky and Pluess, 2009). These models stress individual differences in the strength of needs for relatedness and autonomy, and people's susceptibility to external events. "
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    ABSTRACT: This study addresses knowledge gaps regarding family dynamics, and identifies young adults at-risk for psychopathological symptoms. In particular, we examined overparenting and its associations with young adults׳ adjustment (distress and interpersonal sensitivity). Both direct and indirect relations were assessed, the latter through young adults׳ relational characteristics (attachment, psychological control perception, and boundaries diffusion perception). Also, the contribution of gender of parents and young adults was addressed. Questionnaires were collected from 89 Jewish-Israeli intact families. Mothers reported significantly more use of overparenting than fathers. More overparenting of fathers had a direct relation with less adjustment in young adults. This direct relation was partially mediated by higher levels of young adults׳ attachment anxiety (for the dependent variables distress and interpersonal sensitivity) and young adults׳ perceptions of parental psychological control (for the dependent variable distress). More overparenting of mothers was related to less interpersonal sensitivity for male young adults and for young adults who reported less parental psychological control. This study showed that parenting qualities and their interplay with young adults׳ relational characteristics continue to play an important role in the lives of young adult offspring. Therefore, clinicians dealing with young adults at risk for, or suffering from, psychopathology, should be attentive to overparenting and its possible implications. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ireland Ltd.
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