Differential Susceptibility in Minority Children: Individual Differences in Environmental Sensitivity



In developmental psychology, individual differences in response to environmental influences have often been conceptualized from a perspective of diathesis-stress. According to this framework, adversity will lead to negative outcomes only in individuals that also carry some form of vulnerability (e.g. genetic, psychological traits). Children without such vulnerability, on the other hand, are likely to be resilient in the face of adversity. This model, however, does not lend itself to the examination of individual variability in response to effects of positive influences. Over the last decade, several new frameworks have been developed that describe individual differences in environmental sensitivity more generally, including differential susceptibility theory, biological sensitivity to context and sensory-processing sensitivity. These concepts are based on the notion that individual differences in response to environmental influences reflect an individual’s general sensitivity to environmental influences. Importantly, such general sensitivity moderates the effects of negative as well as positive environmental influences. Empirical studies indicate that individual differences in environmental sensitivity may explain variation in the well-being of minority children when exposed to adverse environments, but also in response to supportive exposures (including intervention). Adopting a perspective of individual differences in general environmental sensitivity will benefit researchers, policy makers and practitioners alike in their efforts to better understand and promote positive development and well-being in minority children.


Diathesis-stress Differential susceptibility Biological sensitivity to context High sensitive personality Vantage sensitivity Environmental sensitivity 


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© The Editor(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological and Experimental Psychology, School of Biological and Chemical SciencesQueen Mary University of LondonLondonUK

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