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Open Access Publications from the University of California

An Evolutionary Perspective on Family Studies: Differential Susceptibility to Environmental Influences.

  • Author(s): Hartman, Sarah
  • Belsky, Jay
  • et al.

An evolutionary perspective of human development provides the basis for the differential-susceptibility hypothesis which stipulates that individuals should differ in their susceptibility to environmental influences, with some being more affected than others by both positive and negative developmental experiences and environmental exposures. This paper reviews evidence consistent with this claim while revealing that temperamental and genetic characteristics play a role in distinguishing more and less susceptible individuals. The differential-susceptibility framework under consideration is contrasted to the traditional diathesis-stress view that "vulnerability" traits predispose some to being disproportionately affected by (only) adverse experiences. We raise several issues stimulated by the literature that need to be clarified in further research. Lastly, we suggest that therapy may differ in its effects depending on an individual's susceptibility.

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