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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