Environmental harshness and unpredictability: Do they affect the same parents and children?

Xiaoya Zhang, Gabriel L. Schlomer, Bruce J. Ellis, Jay Belsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Differential susceptibility theory stipulates that individuals vary in their susceptibility to environmental effects, often implying that the same individuals differ in the same way in their susceptibility to different environmental exposures. The latter point is addressed herein by evaluating the extent to which early-life harshness and unpredictability affect mother's psychological well-being and parenting, as well as their adolescent's life-history strategy, as reflected in number of sexual partners by age 15 years, drawing on data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Results indicated that mothers whose well-being and parenting proved more susceptible to harshness also proved somewhat more susceptible to environmental unpredictability, with the same being true of adolescent sexual behavior. Nevertheless, findings caution against overgeneralizing sample-level findings to all individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)667-673
Number of pages7
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 21 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • differential susceptibility
  • harshness
  • life-history theory
  • unpredictability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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