Genomics and psychological resilience: a research agenda

Mol Psychiatry. 2019 Dec;24(12):1770-1778. doi: 10.1038/s41380-019-0457-6. Epub 2019 Jul 24.


Although exposure to adversity increases risk for poor mental health outcomes, many people exposed to adversity do not develop such outcomes. Psychological resilience, defined broadly as positive emotional and/or behavioral adaptation to adversity, may be influenced by genetic factors that have remained largely unexplored in the era of large-scale genome-wide studies. In this perspective, we provide an integrative framework for studying human genome-wide variation underlying resilience. We first outline three complementary working definitions of psychological resilience-as a capacity, process, and outcome. For each definition, we review emerging empirical evidence, including findings from positive psychology, to illustrate how a resilience-based framework can guide novel and fruitful directions for the field of psychiatric genomics, distinct from the ongoing study of psychiatric risk and related traits. Finally, we provide practical recommendations for future genomic research on resilience, highlighting a need to augment cross-sectional findings with prospective designs that include detailed measurement of adversities and outcomes. A research framework that explicitly addresses resilience could help us to probe biological mechanisms of stress adaptation, identify individuals who may benefit the most from prevention and early intervention, and ascertain modifiable protective factors that mitigate negative outcomes even for those at high genetic risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Genomics / methods
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Mental Health / trends
  • Prospective Studies
  • Resilience, Psychological / classification*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology