Distinguishing differential susceptibility from diathesis-stress: recommendations for evaluating interaction effects

Dev Psychopathol. 2012 May;24(2):389-409. doi: 10.1017/S0954579412000065.


This report describes the state of the art in distinguishing data generated by differential susceptibility from diathesis-stress models. We discuss several limitations of existing practices for probing interaction effects and offer solutions that are designed to better differentiate differential susceptibility from diathesis-stress models and quantify their corresponding implications. In addition, we demonstrate the utility of these methods by revisiting published evidence suggesting that temperamental difficulty serves as a marker of enhanced susceptibility to early maternal caregiving across a range of outcome domains in the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. We find that, with the exception of mother reports of psychopathology, there is consistent evidence in the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development that the predictive significance of early sensitivity is moderated by difficult temperament over time. However, differential susceptibility effects emerged primarily for teacher reports of academic skills, social competence, and symptomatology. In contrast, effects more consistent with the diathesis-stress model were obtained for mother reports of social skills and objective tests of academic skills. We conclude by discussing the value of the application of this work to the next wave of Gene × Environment studies focused on early caregiving experiences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Resilience, Psychological*
  • Social Environment*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Temperament*