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


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 mothers psychological well-being and parenting, as well as their adolescents 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)
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
StateAccepted/In press - 2021
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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