Belsky, J. et al. (2007)
For Better and for Worse: Differential Susceptibility to Environmental Influences
Current Directions in Psychological Science 16(6): 300-304

and

Belsky, J. et al. (2010)
Vulnerability Genes or Plasticity Genes?
Molecular Psychiatry 14: 746-754

and

Belsky, J. and Pluess, M. (2009)
Beyond Diathesis Stress: Differential Susceptibility to Environmental Influences
Psychological Bulletin 135(6): 885–908

  • It is now well known that some children are more vulnerable than others to maltreatment and that this may be due to differences in genetics and/or temperament.
  • Jay Belsky and his co-workers have proposed that this vulnerability may be more accurately thought of as “plasticity”, in that children who are vulnerable to adverse events may also be more sensitive to favourable ones. These three papers review the literature on this subject.
  • In the first paper, Belsky and co-workers introduce this effect, which they term “differential susceptibility”. They describe studies that seem to support it and propose others to test the theory further.
  • The second paper is a review of papers that discuss three genetic variants that are thought to increase vulnerability to childhood stress, and that show that there is at least a suggestion that each of these also increases sensitivity to positive childhood experiences.
  • In the third paper, Belsky and Pluess suggest ways in which the phenomenon of “differential susceptibility” might have arisen through evolution.
  • One problem recognized in all three papers is that there is relatively little published literature on the effect of positive childhood experiences, which will make the theory harder to prove for certain.