Beyond orchids and dandelions: Susceptibility to environmental influences is not bimodal

Dev Psychopathol. 2023 Feb;35(1):191-203. doi: 10.1017/S0954579421000821. Epub 2021 Oct 29.


This study focused on generality versus specificity of susceptibility of effects of eight family and child-care exposures measured between 3 and 54 months of age (e.g., sensitive parenting, child-care quality) on five child development outcomes assessed at age 4.5 years (e.g. behavior problems, preacademic skill), using data from The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (n = 1,364, boys = 705; White = 1,097, Black = 176, other = 91), while applying a novel influence-statistics method. Results indicated that susceptibility across the environment-predictor:child-outcome associations is normally rather than bimodally (i.e., orchid-dandelion) distributed. Analysis of susceptibility documents both domain generality and specificity of developmental plasticity, with effect sizes proving small in the former case. As predicted, children who as infants had difficult temperaments or who scored higher on a polygenic-plasticity score (serotonin-transporter-linked promoter region [5-HTTLPR], dopamine receptor D4 [DRD4], brain-derived neurotrophic factor [BDNF]) proved somewhat more susceptible to some of the environmental effects investigated. Results lead to the recommendation that two-types-of-individuals vis-a-vis susceptibility to environmental influences be questioned and general-trait conceptions of susceptibility be further investigated.

Keywords: differential susceptibility; domain general versus specific; polygenic scores; susceptibility continuum; temperament.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Parenting
  • Receptors, Dopamine D4 / genetics
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Taraxacum*


  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Receptors, Dopamine D4