Article

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: 14.76). 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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    • "The intervention's protective findings suggests that participation in efficacious intervention programs may have the potential to intervene on stress processes at a biological level and promotes the role of intervention programs among youth living in high conflict or stressful environments . While prevention programs may benefit all youth to a degree, there is a growing appreciation and literature on individual differences in sensitivity to one's environment , both positive and negative (Belsky and Pluess 2009). These differences may be partly explained by genetic predispositions. "
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    • "However, an accumulation of evidence later indicated that vulnerable individuals identified in diathesis–stress models might instead be viewed as sensitive, developmentally plastic, and malleable vis-à-vis environmental influences, regardless of their valence. This alternate perspective led to the biological sensitivity to context model (Boyce and Ellis, 2005) and the differentialsusceptibility hypothesis (Belsky and Pluess, 2009), both of which share features with the concept of sensory processing sensitivity (Aron and Aron, 1997) from the personality literature. These independently developed but complementary and influential models have been joined under the umbrella term neurobiological susceptibility (Ellis et al., 2011; see also Moore and Depue, in press, Pluess (in press), and Stamps (2015) for highly relevant reviews of this general concept). "
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    • "According to Belsky's differential susceptibility hypothesis (Belsky, 1997, 2005), infants with negative or difficult temperaments have a heightened susceptibility to caregiving quality (Belsky et al., 1998). Temperament is a phenotypic marker of underlying genetic characteristics that often follows a differential susceptibility pattern in the empirical literature (Belsky & Pluess, 2009). Children with a ''difficult'' temperament (i.e., high negative affectivity) are at an increased risk for subsequent social–emotional maladjustment when they experience a poor-quality caregiving environment (i.e., low-quality childcare or parenting; see Belsky & Pluess, 2009) – but, in contexts of high-quality caregiving, are better adjusted than even those children low in negative affectivity (Boyce & Ellis, 2005). "
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