Professor Michael Pluess


Professor of Developmental Psychology
BSc, MSc, PhD, PGCert, FHEA, CPsychol
+44 (0)1483 689762
Office hours (05AC05): Tuesdays 2-4pm (arrange per email)

About

Areas of specialism

Positive Development; Environmental Sensitivity; Mental Health and Resilience in Humanitarian Settings; Resilience; Differential Susceptibility; Person-Environment Interaction; Genetics; Psychological Intervention

University roles and responsibilities

  • Programme Director MSc Psychology (Conversion)

    My qualifications

    2005
    BSc in Psychology
    University of Basel, Switzerland
    2007
    MSc in Clinical Psychology
    University of Basel, Switzerland
    2009
    PhD in Psychology
    University of Basel, Switzerland

    Previous roles

    2008 - 2012
    Associate Research Fellow
    Birkbeck University of London
    2010 - 2014
    Honorary Lecturer
    University of East London
    2011 - 2012
    Postdoctoral Scholar
    University of California Davis
    2012 - 2013
    Lecturer
    King's College London
    2013 - 2019
    Visiting Fellow
    London School of Economics
    2013 - 2016
    Senior Lecturer
    Queen Mary University of London
    2016 - 2018
    Reader and Head of Department
    Queen Mary University of London
    2018 - 2023
    Professor (and Head of Department until 2019)
    Queen Mary University of London

    Research

    Research interests

    Supervision

    Postgraduate research supervision

    Publications

    Francesca Lionetti, Raynae Shontae Casandra Dumpfrey, Juliette Richetin, Mirco Fasolo, Annalaura Nocentini, Barbara Penolazzi, Michael Pluess, Alessandra Santona, Maria Spinelli, Emanuele Preti (2024)Is environmental sensitivity a unique trait? A multi-sample study on the association between sensitivity, personality, and psychological adjustment, In: Personality and individual differences217112463 Elsevier Ltd

    We aimed to investigate the extent to which Environmental Sensitivity (ES), as captured by the Highly Sensitive Person, 12-item scale (HSP-12), is distinguishable from traditional personality traits, contributes to psychological adjustment over and above personality, and if this contribution depends on the rearing environment. We also explored the HSP-12 psychometric properties and invariance across countries (UK and Italy) and samples (university and general population). Across multiple adult samples (N = 4459), we provided evidence that ES can be reliably assessed with the HSP-12 across countries and groups. We also showed that ES is distinguishable from established personality traits and is associated with lower well-being and negative affect, beyond personality. An environment perceived as caring played a buffering role. •Environmental Sensitivity (ES) can be reliably assessed with the HSP-12 scale.•ES is distinguishable from traditional personality traits.•ES predicts psychological adjustment over and above personality.•Positive rearing environments buffer the ES association with anxiety and depression.

    Demelza Smeeth, Andrew K. May, Elie G. Karam, Michael J. Rieder, Abdelbaset A. Elzagallaai, Stan van Uum, Michael Pluess (2023)Risk and resilience in Syrian refugee children: A multisystem analysis, In: Development and psychopathologypp. 1-13

    Abstract Refugee children are often exposed to substantial trauma, placing them at increased risk for mental illness. However, this risk can be mitigated by a capacity for resilience, conferred from multiple ecological systems (e.g., family, community), including at an individual biological level. We examined the ability of hair cortisol concentrations and polygenic scores for mental health to predict risk and resilience in a sample of Syrian refugee children ( n = 1359). Children were categorized as either at-risk or resilient depending on clinical thresholds for posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and externalizing behavior problems. Logistic regression was used to examine main and interacting effects while controlling for covariates. Elevated hair cortisol concentrations were significantly associated with reduced resilience (odds ratio (OR)=0.58, 95%CI [0.40, 0.83]) while controlling for levels of war exposure. Polygenic scores for depression, self-harm, and neuroticism were not found to have any significant main effects. However, a significant interaction emerged between hair cortisol and polygenic scores for depression (OR=0.04, 95%CI [0.003 0.47]), suggesting that children predisposed to depression were more at risk for mental health problems when hair cortisol concentrations were high. Our results suggest that biomarkers (separately and in combination) might support early identification of refugee children at risk for mental health problems.

    Giusy Danila Valenti, Alida Lo Coco, Nicolò Maria Iannello, Cristiano Inguglia, Michael Pluess, Francesca Lionetti, Sonia Ingoglia (2023)Individual Differences in Adolescents’ Civic Engagement: The Role of Civic Discussions with Parents and Environmental Sensitivity, In: International journal of environmental research and public health20(13)

    The main goal of the current study was to examine the direct and moderating effects of civic discussions with parents and environmental sensitivity using both the total score and its specific dimensions (i.e., Aesthetic Sensitivity, AES; Ease of Excitation, EOE; Low Sensitivity Threshold, LST) on youth civic engagement (attitudes and behaviours). The empirical analysis relied on a questionnaire-based survey conducted on a sample of 438 adolescents (30% males), aged between 14 and 18 years (M = 16.50, SD = 1.36). We used a structural equation model (SEM) with latent variables and the latent moderated structural equation (LMS) method to test our hypotheses. Our results showed that civic discussions with parents were positively and significantly associated with general environmental sensitivity and with AES and predicted both civic attitudes and civic behaviours; EOE was negatively and significantly related to civic behaviours; AES was positively and significantly related to civic attitudes; and LST was not significantly related to either civic attitudes or behaviours. Contrary to our expectations, environmental sensitivity did not moderate the relationship between civic discussions with parents and civic engagement. Our study further highlights the relevance that parents have in shaping their children’s civic engagement and makes a novel contribution regarding how differences in perceiving and processing environmental stimuli can affect beliefs and behaviours toward community issues among young individuals.

    Candace J. Black, Fiona S. McEwen, Demelza Smeeth, Cassandra M. Popham, Elie Karam, Michael Pluess (2023)Effects of war exposure on pubertal development in refugee children, In: Developmental psychology
    Fiona S. McEwen, Claudinei E. Biazoli, Cassandra M. Popham, Patricia Moghames, Dahlia Saab, John Fayyad, Elie Karam, Tania Bosqui, Michael Pluess (2023)Prevalence and predictors of mental health problems in refugee children living in informal settlements in Lebanon, In: Nature mental health1(2)pp. 135-144

    Abstract Millions of people are currently displaced. About half of them are children who are at increased risk of mental health problems. While some risk factors such as war exposure are well established, less is known regarding the effects of the local refugee environment. Here we show that the prevalence and comorbidity of mental health problems in Syrian refugee children living in settlements in Lebanon are high. We assessed individual, familial and social factors in a prospective cohort study ( N = 1,591 child–caregiver dyads interviewed between October 2017 and January 2018; n = 1,000 interviewed at 1 yr follow-up). Of these children, 39.6% met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, 26.9% for conduct/oppositional defiant disorder, 20.1% for depression and 47.8% for anxiety disorders. Exposure to daily stressors was the factor most strongly associated with children’s mental health problems. Interventions and policies addressing ongoing daily stressors are as important as scaling up mental health services for refugee families.

    Tania Bosqui, Fiona S McEwen, Nicolas Chehade, Patricia Moghames, Stephanie Skavenski, Laura Murray, Elie Karam, Roland Weierstall-Pust, Michael Pluess (2023)What drives change in children receiving telephone-delivered Common Elements Treatment Approach (t-CETA)? A multiple n = 1 study with Syrian refugee children and adolescents in Lebanon, In: Child abuse & neglect106388 Elsevier Ltd

    Although the evidence-base for mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) interventions in humanitarian settings is growing rapidly, their mechanisms of change remain poorly understood despite the potential to improve the effectiveness and reach of interventions. This study aimed to explore the mechanisms or factors that drive change in a modular transdiagnostic telephone-delivered mental health intervention, Common Elements Treatment Approach (t-CETA). Participants were Syrian refugee children and adolescents living in tented settlements in Lebanon. We used a multiple n = 1 design, drawing on secondary data from 9 children who completed t-CETA during a pilot randomized controlled trial. Children with historical war-related trauma were more likely to show significant improvement across symptom clusters by the end of treatment compared to children presenting with depression related to daily living conditions. Children also showed fluctuating symptoms during the early stages of treatment (engagement and cognitive restructuring) but significant decline in symptoms after the trauma module (prolonged imaginal exposure) and depression module (behavioral activation). Salient external life events identified were starting or dropping out of school, working, change in living conditions, family conflict and the October Revolution; and interpersonal factors of parental engagement (with or without full attendance) and counsellor skills in building rapport were also identified as having an impact on treatment success. Implications of our findings are discussed in terms of integrating active ingredients into MHPSS programming, and building on parental and multi-sector involvement in child and adolescent mental health care in humanitarian settings.

    Giusy Danila Valenti, Alida Lo Coco, Nicolò Maria Iannello, Cristiano Inguglia, Michael Pluess, Francesca Lionetti, Sonia Ingoglia (2023)Individual Differences in Adolescents' Civic Engagement: The Role of Civic Discussions with Parents and Environmental Sensitivity, In: International journal of environmental research and public health20(13)6315

    The main goal of the current study was to examine the direct and moderating effects of civic discussions with parents and environmental sensitivity using both the total score and its specific dimensions (i.e., Aesthetic Sensitivity, AES; Ease of Excitation, EOE; Low Sensitivity Threshold, LST) on youth civic engagement (attitudes and behaviours). The empirical analysis relied on a questionnaire-based survey conducted on a sample of 438 adolescents (30% males), aged between 14 and 18 years ( = 16.50, = 1.36). We used a structural equation model (SEM) with latent variables and the latent moderated structural equation (LMS) method to test our hypotheses. Our results showed that civic discussions with parents were positively and significantly associated with general environmental sensitivity and with AES and predicted both civic attitudes and civic behaviours; EOE was negatively and significantly related to civic behaviours; AES was positively and significantly related to civic attitudes; and LST was not significantly related to either civic attitudes or behaviours. Contrary to our expectations, environmental sensitivity did not moderate the relationship between civic discussions with parents and civic engagement. Our study further highlights the relevance that parents have in shaping their children's civic engagement and makes a novel contribution regarding how differences in perceiving and processing environmental stimuli can affect beliefs and behaviours toward community issues among young individuals.

    Francesca Lionetti, Lavinia Barone, Michael Pluess (2014)Vulnerabilità, resilienza o differente permeabilità? Un confronto tra modelli per lo studio dell'interazione individuo-ambiente, In: Psicologia clinica dello sviluppo53(2 (agosto 2014))pp. 163-182 Società editrice il Mulino

    Nell'articolo sono presentati tre modelli di riferimento per lo studio dell'interazione individuo- ambiente sugli esiti di sviluppo: il "Diathesis-stress" e i più recenti "Differential Susceptibility" e "Vantage Sensitivity". Partendo dai presupposti teorici e dalle risultanze empiriche del primo, più diffuso, vengono illustrati i presupposti teorici, le implicazioni per la ricerca e la visione dello sviluppo degli ultimi due, di recente proposta e orientati a un più ampio range di fattori coinvolti nel processo di interazione individuo-ambiente, sia di natura negativa che positiva. Infine, sono discussi aspetti metodologici per lo studio dell'interazione individuo-ambiente e le possibili direzioni applicative e di ricerca futura.

    Elham Assary, Michael Pluess (2017)Differential Susceptibility in Minority Children: Individual Differences in Environmental Sensitivity, In: Handbook on Positive Development of Minority Children and Youthpp. 139-152 Springer

    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.

    Michael Pluess, Jay Belsky (2010)Children's differential susceptibility to effects of parenting, In: Family science1(1)pp. 14-25 Taylor & Francis

    The investigation and identification of factors shaping children's development have long been central to the field of developmental psychology; and parenting has long been considered one of the most important sources of influence. A vast body of empirical evidence highlights the contribution of parenting to a wide range of cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioral developmental outcomes. Long appreciated, too, is that parenting effects are often moderated by characteristics of the child, most notably, perhaps, early temperament. Indeed, most such work has been guided by conceptions of vulnerability stemming from negative or difficult temperament that interacts with insensitive, harsh or otherwise unsupportive parenting to undermine child well-being. Belsky's differential-susceptibility framework challenges such diathesis-stress thinking, highlighting the fact that the very individuals who seem most susceptible to environmental adversity, including negatively emotional infants, may also benefit the most from developmentally supportive rearing. Evidence consistent with this view - that some children are more affected than others, for better and for worse, depending on the rearing environment - is reviewed, including new research on gene-X-environment interaction. Finally, unknowns of the differential-susceptibility hypothesis are considered.

    Michael Pluess (2011)Beyond adversity, vulnerability, and resilience, In: The Origins and Organization of Adaptation and Maladaptationpp. 379-422 Wiley

    This chapter contains sections titled: Theoretical Foundation Evidence of Individual Differences in Developmental Plasticity Discussion Acknowledgements

    Michael Pluess, Jay Belsky, Rosalind J. Neuman (2009)Prenatal Smoking and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: DRD4-7R as a Plasticity Gene, In: Biological psychiatry (1969)66(4)pp. e5-e6 Elsevier Inc
    Michael Pluess, Cassandra M Popham, and McEwen (2021)Psychological Resilience in Response to Adverse Experiences, In: Multisystemic Resiliencepp. 395-416 Oxford University Press

    In the field of developmental psychology, resilience is broadly understood as positive adaptation despite exposure to adversity. The concept provides an explanation for the wide variability in mental health outcomes observed in children exposed to adverse experiences. Although resilience has become an important and influential concept in the field, some fundamental questions remain, such as how it should be defined and operationalized and what the specific processes are that lead to positive mental health outcomes in some children but not others. These questions are particularly relevant in the context of the global refugee crisis to understand and promote resilience in children exposed to war and displacement. In this chapter the authors argue that a holistic view is required to understand resilience and provide a model integrating five important psychological concepts. The five components of our integrated model of resilience suggest that (a) development is nested within multiple psychosocial and bio-ecological systems; (b) individual differences in environmental sensitivity influence the individual response to both negative and positive aspects of the environment; (c) resilience mechanisms can be investigated across multiple levels of analysis; (d) the conceptualization of positive adaptation should consider multiple outcome dimensions; and (e) resilience represents a developmental process that needs to be examined longitudinally. After presenting this model, the authors review empirical studies in relation to each of these five components and suggest how they can be further applied in the study of resilience to war and displacement in refugee children.

    Candace J. Black, Fiona S McEwen, Demelza Smeeth, Cassandra M Popham, Elie Karam, Michael Pluess (2023)Effects of War Exposure on Pubertal Development in Refugee Children, In: Developmental psychology59(9)pp. 1559-1572 Amer Psychological Assoc

    Increasing research shows pubertal development accelerates following threats while it decelerates following deprivation. Yet, these environmental stressors are unlikely to occur in isolation. We investigated how war exposure and energetic stress impact pubertal development using data from the longitudinal Biological Pathways of Risk and Resilience in Syrian Refugee Children study. Our sample included 1,600 male and female Syrian refugee children and their caregivers who lived in temporary settlements in Lebanon. We hypothesized that (a) energetic stress suppresses pubertal development; (b) war exposure accelerates pubertal timing in boys and increases risk of menarche in girls, but only when energetic stress is low; and (c) when energetic stress is elevated, effects of war exposure on pubertal development will be attenuated. Among boys, we did not find support for Hypothesis 1, but Hypotheses 2 and 3 were supported. Exposure to morbidity/mortality threats accelerated pubertal timing; this effect was attenuated under conditions of elevated energetic stress. Among girls, we found support for Hypothesis 1, but not for Hypotheses 2 and 3. Elevated energetic stress decreased the risk of menarche in girls. Neither war exposure, nor any interactions with energetic stress, predicted risk of menarche. Sensitivity analyses revealed a significant interaction between bombing exposure and the amount of time since leaving Syria. Bombing decreased the risk of menarche, but only for girls who had left Syria four or more years prior to data collection. We discuss implications for translational efforts advocating for puberty screening in medical and mental health settings to identify trauma-exposed youth.

    Wietse A Tol, PhuongThao D Le, Sarah L Harrison, Ananda Galappatti, Jeannie Annan, Florence K Baingana, Theresa S Betancourt, Cecile Bizouerne, Julian Eaton, Michelle Engels, Zeinab Hijazi, Rebecca R Horn, Mark J D Jordans, Brandon A Kohrt, Phiona Koyiet, Catherine Panter-Brick, Michael Pluess, Atif Rahman, Derrick Silove, Mark Tomlinson, José Miguel Uribe-Restrepo, Peter Ventevogel, Inka Weissbecker, Alastair Ager, Mark van Ommeren (2023)Mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian settings: research priorities for 2021–30, In: The Lancet Global Health11(6)pp. e969-e975 Elsevier

    We describe an effort to develop a consensus-based research agenda for mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) interventions in humanitarian settings for 2021–30. By engaging a broad group of stakeholders, we generated research questions through a qualitative study (in Indonesia, Lebanon, and Uganda; n=101), consultations led by humanitarian agencies (n=259), and an expert panel (n=227; 51% female participants and 49% male participants; 84% of participants based in low-income and middle-income countries). The expert panel selected and rated a final list of 20 research questions. After rating, the MHPSS research agenda favoured applied research questions (eg, regarding workforce strengthening and monitoring and evaluation practices). Compared with research priorities for the previous decade, there is a shift towards systems-oriented implementation research (eg, multisectoral integration and ensuring sustainability) rather than efficacy research. Answering these research questions selected and rated by the expert panel will require improved partnerships between researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and communities affected by humanitarian crises, and improved equity in funding for MHPSS research in low-income and middle-income countries.

    Rebecca Oldroyd, Laurie F DeRose, Michael Pluess, Kristin Hadfield (2023)A test of the instability hypothesis in low- and middle-income countries, In: Journal of family psychology

    The instability hypothesis proposes that family structure transitions lead to negative child outcomes through the pathway of stress. However, in many cases, family structure transitions are not associated with stress or negative child outcomes, suggesting that there are specific circumstances under which transitions are more or less stressful. Using five rounds of data (ages 1-15) from the Young Lives study ( = 8,062) which follows children and their caregivers in Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam, we had two aims: (a) to test the instability hypothesis, and (b) to examine the specific circumstances under which family structure transitions lead to stress and worsened child physical health. First, we used multilevel mediation to assess whether financial stress mediated the link between family structure transitions and children's physical health. We then added household size, multigenerational household, and horizontally extended kin household as moderators to the family structure transition-financial stress relationship. We found that financial stress did not mediate the link between family structure transitions and children's physical health in any of the Young Lives countries. We found some moderated mediation effects for household size and multigenerational households in Peru and Vietnam, but effect sizes were small. These findings highlight the need to further unpack the instability hypothesis to understand the specific circumstances under which family structure transitions lead to stress and worsened child outcomes. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

    Sarah Hartman, Jay Belsky, Michael Pluess (2023)Prenatal programming of environmental sensitivity, In: Translational psychiatry13(1)pp. 161-161

    According to several theories, people differ in their sensitivity to environmental influences with some more susceptible than others to both supportive and adverse contextual conditions. Such differences in environmental sensitivity have a genetic basis but are also shaped by environmental factors. Herein we narratively build on our previous work proposing that prenatal experiences contribute to the development of environmental sensitivity. This hypothesis of prenatal programming of postnatal plasticity has considerable empirical support. After presenting illustrative animal and human evidence consistent with this claim, we discuss a range of biological mechanisms likely involved in the pathway from prenatal stress exposure to postnatal environmental sensitivity. We also consider work suggesting that genetic differences, gender, as well as the timing, duration and intensity of prenatal exposures may moderate the effects of prenatal programming on postnatal environmental susceptibility or sensitivity. Before concluding, we highlight "unknowns in the prenatal programming of environmental sensitivity" and their practical implications. Ultimately, we conclude that prenatal stress does not necessarily predispose individuals to problematical development, but rather increases sensitivity to both adverse and supportive postnatal contexts. Thus, prenatal stress may actually foster positive development if paired with supportive and caring postnatal environments.

    Jay Belsky, Daniel A. Newman, Keith F. Widaman, Phil Rodkin, Michael Pluess, R. Chris Fraley, Daniel Berry, Jonathan L. Helm, Glenn I. Roisman (2016)Differential susceptibility to effects of maternal sensitivity? A study of candidate plasticity genes (vol 28, pg 725, 2015), In: Development and psychopathology28(4)pp. 1569-1570 Cambridge Univ Press
    Michael Pluess, Francesca Lionetti, Elaine N. Aron, Arthur Aron (2023)People differ in their sensitivity to the environment: An integrated theory, measurement and empirical evidence, In: Journal of Research in Personality104104377 Elsevier

    People differ in their response to experiences with some being generally more and some less sensitive. We present an integrated theoretical perspective on Environmental Sensitivity and provide new empirical evidence. Results across three studies (total N = 910) suggest that sensitivity can be measured reliably and validly with the 12-item Highly Sensitive Person scale (HSP-12). People scoring high on the HSP-12 are more sensitive to both adverse and positive experiences. Higher scores on the HSP-12 are reflected in high Neuroticism, particularly anxiety and vulnerability, and high Openness, particularly imagination, artistic interests and emotionality. We conclude that findings confirm the theoretical proposition that people differ in their sensitivity to environmental influences, and propose a number of future directions to advance research.

    Jay Belsky, Michael Pluess (2009)The Nature (and Nurture?) of Plasticity in Early Human Development, In: Perspectives on Psychological Science4(4)pp. 345-351 Sage

    The effect of early experience is a long-standing concern in developmental psychology. Gaining further insight into the nature of human plasticity is central to efforts to prevent problems in development from arising and promote positive functioning. Evolutionary reasoning suggests that children should vary in their susceptibility to environmental influences, including parenting. Evidence indicates that rather than some children, such as those with negatively emotional temperaments or certain genotypes, being simply more vulnerable to the adverse effects of negative experiences, as commonly assumed, they may actually be more susceptible to both positive and negative experiences. In addition to raising questions about the nature of plasticity in human development, this article highlights unknowns regarding the role of nature and nurture in shaping individual differences in plasticity, including whether recent research linking maternal stress during pregnancy with child behavior problems illuminates a process whereby fetal programming shapes the child's susceptibility to postnatal environmental influences. Throughout this article, we raise concern about the potentially distorting influence that psychology's disproportionate focus on the adverse effect of negative experiences on developmental problems has on our understanding of human plasticity, and we propose that researchers should pay more attention to the positive side of the plasticity equation.

    J. Belsky, C. Jonassaint, M. Pluess, M. Stanton, B. Brummett, R. Williams (2009)Vulnerability genes or plasticity genes?, In: Molecular Psychiatry14(8)pp. 746-754 Springer Nature

    The classic diathesis-stress framework, which views some individuals as particularly vulnerable to adversity, informs virtually all psychiatric research on behavior-gene-environment (G x E) interaction. An alternative framework of 'differential susceptibility' is proposed, one which regards those most susceptible to adversity because of their genetic make up as simultaneously most likely to benefit from supportive or enriching experiences-or even just the absence of adversity. Recent G x E findings consistent with this perspective and involving monoamine oxidase-A, 5-HTTLPR (5-hydroxytryptamine-linked polymorphic region polymorphism) and dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) are reviewed for illustrative purposes. Results considered suggest that putative 'vulnerability genes' or 'risk alleles' might, at times, be more appropriately conceptualized as 'plasticity genes', because they seem to make individuals more susceptible to environmental influences-for better and for worse.

    Michael Pluess, Jay Belsky (2016)Differential susceptibility to maternal sensitivity, In: Maternal Sensitivity: A Scientific Foundation for Practice Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

    A vast body of empirical evidence highlights the contribution of maternal sensitivity to multiple features of children's development. Long appreciated, too, is that parenting effects frequently vary across children, often moderated by characteristics of the child such as early temperament. Most such work has been guided by conceptions of vulnerability stemming from negative or difficult temperament that interacts with insensitive, harsh or otherwise unsupportive parenting to undermine child well-being. Belsky's (1997b; 2005) differential-susceptibility framework challenges such diathesis-stress thinking, highlighting the fact that the very individuals who seem most susceptible to environmental adversity--including negatively emotional infants, toddlers, and preschoolers--may also benefit the most from developmentally supportive rearing. In other words, some children may be more affected than others by both highly sensitive and insensitive parenting. Evidence consistent with this view is reviewed, including research on temperament-X-parenting and gene-X-environment interaction. Finally, potential implications of the differential susceptibility perspective regarding the understanding of parenting effects are discussed.

    Jay Belsky, Daniel A. Newman, Keith F. Widaman, Phil Rodkin, Michael Pluess, R. Chris Fraley, Daniel Berry, Jonathan L. Helm, Glenn I. Roisman (2015)Differential susceptibility to effects of maternal sensitivity? A study of candidate plasticity genes, In: Development and Psychopathology27(3)pp. 725-746 Cambridge University Press

    Here we tested whether there was genetic moderation of effects of early maternal sensitivity on social-emotional and cognitive-linguistic development from early childhood onward and whether any detected Gene x Environment interaction effects proved consistent with differential-susceptibility or diathesis-stress models of Person x Environment interaction (N = 695). Two new approaches for evaluating models were employed with 12 candidate genes. Whereas maternal sensitivity proved to be a consistent predictor of child functioning across the primary-school years, candidate genes did not show many main effects, nor did they tend to interact with maternal sensitivity/insensitivity. These findings suggest that the developmental benefits of early sensitive mothering and the costs of insensitive mothering look more similar than different across genetically different children in the current sample. Although acknowledgement of this result is important, it is equally important that the generally null Gene x Environment results reported here not be overgeneralized to other samples, other predictors, other outcomes, and other candidate genes.

    Desiree Y. Phua, Michelle K. Z. L. Kee, Dawn X. P. Koh, Anne Rifkin-Graboi, Mary Daniels, Helen Chen, Yap Seng Chong, Birit F. P. Broekman, Iliana Magiati, Neerja Karnani, Michael Pluess, Michael J. Meaney, (2017)Positive maternal mental health during pregnancy associated with specific forms of adaptive development in early childhood: Evidence from a longitudinal study, In: Development and Psychopathology29(5)pp. 1573-1587 Cambridge University Press

    The quality of prenatal maternal mental health, from psychological stress and depressive symptoms to anxiety and other nonpsychotic mental disorders, profoundly affects fetal neurodevelopment. Despite the evidence for the influence of positive mental well-being on health, there is, to our knowledge, no research examining the possible effects of positive antenatal mental health on the development of the offspring. Using exploratory bifactor analysis, this prospective study (n = 1,066) demonstrated the feasibility of using common psychiatric screening tools to examine the effect of positive maternal mental health. Antenatal mental health was assessed during 26th week of pregnancy. The effects on offspring were assessed when the child was 12, 18, and 24 months old. Results showed that positive antenatal mental health was uniquely associated with the offspring's cognitive, language and parentally rated competences. This study shows that the effects of positive maternal mental health are likely to be specific and distinct from the sheer absence of symptoms of depression or anxiety.

    Michael Pluess, Elham Assary, Francesca Lionetti, Kathryn J Lester, Eva Krapohl, Elaine N Aron, Arthur Aron (2018)Environmental sensitivity in children: Development of the Highly Sensitive Child Scale and identification of sensitivity groups, In: Developmental Psychology54(1)pp. 51-70 American Psychological Association

    A large number of studies document that children differ in the degree they are shaped by their developmental context with some being more sensitive to environmental influences than others. Multiple theories suggest that Environmental Sensitivity is a common trait predicting the response to negative as well as positive exposures. However, most research to date has relied on more or less proximal markers of Environmental Sensitivity. In this paper we introduce a new questionnaire—the Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) scale—as a promising self-report measure of Environmental Sensitivity. After describing the development of the short 12-item HSC scale for children and adolescents, we report on the psychometric properties of the scale, including confirmatory factor analysis and test–retest reliability. After considering bivariate and multivariate associations with well-established temperament and personality traits, we apply Latent Class Analysis to test for the existence of hypothesized sensitivity groups. Analyses are conducted across 5 studies featuring 4 different U.K.-based samples ranging in age from 8–19 years and with a total sample size of N = 3,581. Results suggest the 12-item HSC scale is a psychometrically robust measure that performs well in both children and adolescents. Besides being relatively independent from other common traits, the Latent Class Analysis suggests that there are 3 distinct groups with different levels of Environmental Sensitivity—low (approx. 25–35%), medium (approx. 41–47%), and high (20–35%). Finally, we provide exploratory cut-off scores for the categorization of children into these different groups which may be useful for both researchers and practitioners.

    Francesca Lionetti, Elaine N Aron, Arthur Aron, Daniel N Klein, Michael Pluess (2019)Observer-rated environmental sensitivity moderates children's response to parenting quality in early childhood, In: Developmental Psychology55(11)pp. 2389-2402 American Psychological Association

    According to several developmental theories some children are more sensitive to the quality of their environment than others, but most supporting empirical evidence is based on relatively distal markers of hypothesized sensitivity. This study provides evidence for the validity of behaviorally observed Environmental Sensitivity as a moderator of parenting effects on children’s early development in a sample of 292 children (Mage = 3.74; SD = 0.26) and their mothers. Sensitivity was coded using a newly developed observational measure for the specific and objective assessment of Environmental Sensitivity, the Highly Sensitive Child-Rating System (HSC-RS). HSC-RS factorial structure, associations with temperament traits, and interactions with parenting quality in the prediction of socioemotional child outcomes are reported. Findings supported a 1-factor solution. Observed sensitivity was relatively distinct from observed temperament and interacted with both low and high parenting quality in the development of behavior problems and social competence at ages 3 and 6.

    Elham Assary, John Vincent, Sandra Machlitt-Northen, Rob Keers, Michael Pluess (2020)The Role of Gene-Environment Interaction in Mental Health and Susceptibility to the Development of Psychiatric Disorderspp. 117-138 Springer Nature

    The current chapter aims to present a concise but comprehensive review of the current state of gene-by-environment interaction (GxE) research in the field of psychiatric genetics, with a special focus on research from molecular genetic studies. The chapter starts with a review of GxE studies of mental health disorders which includes both recent genome-wide GxE studies, as well as candidate gene studies, since the latter comprise the majority of such studies conducted in the field so far. Next, we critically evaluate the research conducted in the field so far, taking into account the methodological limitations of these studies, as well as recent theoretical concepts of Environmental Sensitivity, such as Differential Susceptibility, that challenge historic assumptions underlying GxE models. The chapter ends with suggestions and directions for future GxE research in mental health.

    Alessandra Sperati, Maria Spinelli, Mirco Fasolo, Massimiliano Pastore, Michael Pluess, Francesca Lionetti (2022)Investigating sensitivity through the lens of parents: validation of the parent-report version of the Highly Sensitive Child scale, In: Development and Psychopathologypp. 1-14 Cambridge University Press

    Children differ in their environmental sensitivity (ES), which can be measured observationally or by self-report questionnaire. A parent-report scale represents an important tool for investigating ES in younger children but has to be psychometrically robust and valid. In the current multistudy, we validated the parent-report version of the Highly Sensitive Child (HSC-PR) scale in Italian children, evaluating its factorial structure (Study 1, N= 1,857, 6.2 years, age range: 2.6-14 years) through a multigroup Confirmatory Factory Analysis in preschoolers (n = 1,066, 4.2 years) and school-age children (n = 791, 8.8 years). We then investigated the HSC-PR relationship with established temperament traits (Study 2, N = 327, 4.3 years), before exploring whether the scale moderates the effects of parenting stress on children's emotion regulation (Study 3, N = 112, 6.5 years). We found support for a bi-factor structure in both groups, though in preschoolers minor adaptations were suggested for one item. Importantly, the HSC-PR did not fully overlap with common temperament traits and moderated the effects of parenting stress on children emotion regulation. To conclude, the HSC-PR performs well and appears to capture ES in children.

    Anne Sophie Brohl, Karla Van Leeuwen, Michael Pluess, Filip De Fruyt, Margot Bastin, Sofie Weyn, Luc Goossens, Patricia Bijttebier (2021)Correction to: First look at the five-factor model personality facet associations with sensory processing sensitivity (Aug, 10.1007/s12144-020-00998-5, 2020), In: Current Psychology42(12)10455 Springer Nature

    Correction: Current Psychology (2020) https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-020-00998-5 The original version of this article unfortunately contained a mistake, parts of Study 1 and 2 sections have been omitted and mixed. Thus, this erratum is presented to fix this error. The original article has been corrected.

    C M Popham, F S McEwen, E Karam, J Fayyad, G Karam, D Saab, P Moghames, M. Pluess (2022)The dynamic nature of refugee children's resilience: a cohort study of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, In: Epidemiology and psychiatric sciences31pp. e41-e41

    Children's responses to war and displacement are varied; many struggle, while others appear resilient. However, research into these outcomes disproportionately focuses on cross-sectional data in high-income countries. We aimed to (1) investigate change in resilience across two timepoints in a highly vulnerable sample of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, and (2) explore predictors of their mental health problems across time. In total, 982 Syrian child-caregiver dyads living in refugee settlements in Lebanon completed questionnaires via interview at baseline and follow-up one year later. We categorised children into groups based on their risk for mental health problems across both timepoints (stable high risk/SHR, deteriorating, improving, stable low risk) according to locally validated cut-offs on measures of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and behavioural problems. Analyses of covariance identified how the groups differed on a range of individual and socio-environmental predictors, followed up by cross-lagged panel models (CLPMs) to investigate the directionality of the relationships between significantly related predictors and symptoms. The sample showed a meaningful amount of change in mental health symptoms from baseline to follow-up. Over half (56.3%) of children met SHR criteria and 10.3% deteriorated over time, but almost one-quarter (24.2%) showed meaningful improvement, and 9.2% were consistently at low risk for mental health problems at both timepoints. Several predictors differentiated the groups, particularly social measures. According to CLPMs, maternal acceptance ( = -0.07) predicted child mental health symptoms over time. Self-esteem ( = -0.08), maternal psychological control ( = 0.10), child maltreatment ( = 0.09) and caregiver depression ( = 0.08) predicted child symptoms and vice versa ( = -0.11, = 0.07, = 0.08, = 0.1, = 0.11). Finally, child symptoms predicted loneliness ( = 0.12), bullying ( = 0.07), perceived social support ( = -0.12), parent-child conflict ( = 0.13), caregiver PTSD ( = 0.07), caregiver anxiety ( = 0.08) and the perceived refugee environment ( = -0.09). Our results show risk and resilience are dynamic, and the family environment plays a key role in children's response to war and displacement. Conversely, children also have a significant impact on the family environment and caregiver's own mental health. Interventions to promote resilience in refugee children should therefore consider family-wide mechanisms.

    Jay Belsky, Irina Pokhvisneva, Anu Sathyan Sathyapalan Rema, Birit F. P. Broekman, Michael Pluess, Kieran J. O'Donnell, Michael J. Meaney, Patricia P. Silveira (2018)Polygenic differential susceptibility to prenatal adversity, In: Development and psychopathology31(2)pp. 439-441 Cambridge Univ Press

    A recent article in this journal reported a number of gene x environment interactions involving a serotonin transporter-gene network polygenic score and a composite index of prenatal adversity predicting several problem behavior outcomes at 48 months (e.g., anxious/depressed, pervasive developmental problems) and at 60 months (e.g., withdrawal, internalizing problems), yet did not illuminate the nature or form these genetic x environment interactions took. Here we report results of six additional analyses to evaluate whether these interactions reflected diathesis-stress or differential-susceptibility related processes. Analyses of the regions of significance and proportion of interaction index are consistent with the diathesis-stress model, seemingly because of the truncated nature of the adversity score (which did not extend to supportive/positive prenatal experiences/exposures); in contrast, the proportion (of cases) affected index favors the differential-susceptibility model. These results suggest the need for future studies to extend measurement of the prenatal environment to highly supportive experiences and exposures.

    Helen Koechlin, Carolina Donado, Cosima Locher, Joe Kossowsky, Francesca Lionetti, Michael Pluess (2023)Sensory processing sensitivity in adolescents reporting chronic pain: an exploratory study, In: Pain reports8(1)pp. e1053-e1053 Wolters Kluwer

    Supplemental Digital Content is Available in the Text. Sensory processing sensitivity, a genetically influenced trait characterized by lower sensory threshold, might be a prevalent characteristic of adolescents reporting chronic pain.

    Vanessa Kyrillos, Tania Bosqui, Patricia Moghames, Nicolas Chehade, Stephanie Saad, Diana Abdul Rahman, Elie Karam, Georges Karam, Dahlia Saab, Michael Pluess, Fiona S. McEwen (2022)The culturally and contextually sensitive assessment of mental health using a structured diagnostic interview (MINI Kid) for Syrian refugee children and adolescents in Lebanon: Challenges and solutions, In: Transcultural psychiatry60(3)pp. 125-141 Sage

    Elevated rates of mental health difficulties are frequently reported in conflict-affected and displaced populations. Even with advances in improving the validity and reliability of measures, our knowledge of the performance of assessment tools is often limited by a lack of contextualization to specific populations and socio-political settings. This reflective article aimed to review challenges and share lessons learned from the process of administering and supervising a structured clinical interview. We administered the MINI International Neuropsychiatric Interview for Children and Adolescents (MINI Kid) and used the Clinical Global Impression (CGI) severity scale with N = 119 Syrian refugee children (aged 8-17) resident in ITSs in Lebanon. Qualitative data were derived from supervision process notes on challenges that arose during assessments, analyzed for thematic content. Five themes were identified: (1) practical and logistical challenges (changeable nature of daily life, competing demands, access to phones, temporary locations, limited referral options); (2) validity (lack of privacy, trust, perceptions of mental health, stigma, false positive answers); (3) cultural norms and meaning (impact of different meanings on answers); (4) contextual norms (reactive and adaptive emotional and behavioral responses to contextual stress); and (5) co-morbidity and formulation (interconnected and complex presentations). The findings suggest that while structured assessments have major advantages, cultural and contextual sensitivity during assessments, addressing practical barriers to improving accessibility, and consideration for inter-connected formulations are essential to help inform prevalence rates, treatment plans, and public health strategies.

    Sevasti Foka, Kristin Hadfield, Michael Pluess, Isabelle Mareschal (2020)Promoting well-being in refugee children: An exploratory controlled trial of a positive psychology intervention delivered in Greek refugee camps, In: Development and psychopathology33(1)pp. 87-95 Cambridge Univ Press

    Rigorously evaluated interventions that target protective factors and positive resources rather than ameliorating negative outcomes in child refugees are rare. To address this, we developed and evaluated a short, group-based resilience-building intervention called Strengths for the Journey (SFJ), which was designed for war-affected children. We conducted a quasi-randomized pilot study of the SFJ intervention with 72 7- to 14-year-old forcibly displaced children (M-age = 10.76, 64.8% female) in three refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece. Intervention effectiveness was assessed by measuring pre-post changes in well-being, self-esteem, optimism, and depressive symptoms from before (T1) to immediately after the intervention/wait-list task (T2). Four focus group interviews were conducted with 31 of the participants to discuss their views on the effects of the intervention and the continued use of the skills that were learned. Using repeated-measures ANOVAs, we found improvements in well-being, F (1, 46) = 42.99, eta(2)(p) = .48, self-esteem, F (1, 56) = 29.11, eta(2)(p) = .40, optimism, F (1, 53) = 27.16, eta(2)(p) = .34, and depressive symptoms, F (1, 31) = 62.14, eta(2)(p) = .67, in the intervention group compared with the wait-listed group (p < .05). Focus group participants highlighted the importance of SFJ in developing a sense of togetherness and building their strengths. Child refugees in low-resource settings may benefit from brief, first-line interventions that target protective factors such as well-being, hope, self-esteem, and belonging.

    Qian Dong, Lina Zhou, Wei Wang, Xin Wei, Michael Pluess, Xiancang Ma (2022)Development and Validation of the Chinese Version of the Highly Sensitive Child Scale: Understanding environmental sensitivity and depressive symptoms in adolescents, In: Frontiers in psychiatry13pp. 999150-999150 Frontiers Media SA

    BackgroundEnvironmental sensitivity (ES) is considered a significant personality factor in the development and maintenance of depressive symptoms in adolescents. However, a clear instrument that can capture ES in Chinese adolescents is lacking. The current study aimed to investigate the psychometric properties of a Chinese version of the Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) Scale for assessing adolescent ES, and explore the potential moderation effect of ES on relationships between maternal behaviors and adolescent depressive symptoms. MethodsIn total, 2,166 students from four middle and high schools and 105 depressed adolescents completed measurements of environmental sensitivity, maternal behaviors, depressive emotions, sleep duration, and academic performance. ResultsFirst, exploratory factor and confirmatory factor analyses indicated that the HSC scale had a good model fit with the bifactor construct, total scale reliability was adequate-good, and measurement invariances across genders and different samples were supported. Furthermore, the results confirmed that the relationship between maternal behaviors and adolescent depressive symptoms had small effects. Compared to low environmentally sensitive adolescents, high environmentally sensitive adolescents exhibited less depressive emotions and better academic performance in the context of high-quality maternal behaviors. Low-quality maternal behaviors significantly predicted increased depressive emotions and worse academic performance in adolescents when environmental sensitivity was high. Moreover, on the contrary, maternal behaviors did not influence depressive emotions and academic performance in adolescents who were less sensitive to their environment. The relationship between maternal behaviors and adolescent depressive symptoms is influenced by different levels of environmental sensitivity. ConclusionOur findings support the HSC scale as a comprehensive and psychometrically robust tool to measure ES in Chinese adolescents. In addition, the present study clarifies the moderating role of environmental sensitivity underlying the relationship between maternal behaviors and adolescent depressive symptoms. It is important to consider the role of ES in prevention and intervention strategies targeting adolescent depressive symptoms.

    Michael Pluess, Jay Belsky (2011)Prenatal programming of postnatal plasticity?, In: Development and psychopathology23(1)pp. 29-38 Cambridge Univ Press

    Evidence indicates that maternal prenatal distress predicts problematic health and behavioral outcomes in children as well as infant/child cortisol levels and negative emotionality as reviewed here. Evidence that these physiological and behavioral characteristics themselves moderate environmental effects on development in a "for better and for worse" manner consistent with Belsky's differential susceptibility hypothesis and Boyce and Ellis' notions of biological sensitivity to context raises the prospect that susceptibility to rearing is a function of nurture (i.e., fetal environment), consistent with Boyce and Ellis' proposal that plasticity can be shaped by developmental experience. This hypothesis is supported by new findings from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development showing that low birth weight, a marker for an adverse prenatal environment, predicts infant difficult temperament, which is a susceptibility factor that we previously showed as moderating, in a for better and for worse manner, the effects of parenting and child care quality on socioemotional functioning. Moreover, recent Gene x Environment interaction research raises the prospect that some fetuses may be more susceptible to such "prenatal programming of postnatal plasticity" as a result of their genetic makeup. If this proves true, it will be consistent with the conclusion that early developmental plasticity is a function of both nature and nurture and may be evolutionarily adaptive, a further possibility considered in the discussion.

    Robert Keers, Michael Pluess (2017)Childhood quality influences genetic sensitivity to environmental influences across adulthood: A life-course Gene x Environment interaction study, In: Development and psychopathology29(Special Issue 5)pp. 1921-1933 Cambridge Univ Press

    While environmental adversity has been shown to increase risk for psychopathology, individuals differ in their sensitivity to these effects. Both genes and childhood experiences are thought to influence sensitivity to the environment, and these factors may operate synergistically such that the effects of childhood experiences on later sensitivity are greater in individuals who are more genetically sensitive. In line with this hypothesis, several recent studies have reported a significant three-way interaction (Gene x Environment x Environment) between two candidate genes and childhood and adult environment on adult psychopathology. We aimed to replicate and extend these findings in a large, prospective multiwave longitudinal study using a polygenic score of environmental sensitivity and objectively measured childhood and adult material environmental quality. We found evidence for both Environment x Environment and Gene x Environment x Environment effects on psychological distress. Children with a poor- quality material environment were more sensitive to the negative effects of a poor environment as adults, reporting significantly higher psychological distress scores. These effects were further moderated by a polygenic score of environmental sensitivity. Genetically sensitive children were more vulnerable to adversity as adults, if they had experienced a poor childhood environment but were significantly less vulnerable if their childhood environment was positive. These findings are in line with the differential susceptibility hypothesis and suggest that a life course approach is necessary to elucidate the role of Gene x Environment in the development of mental illnesses.

    Michael Pluess, Margarete Bolten, Karl-Martin Pirke, Dirk Hellhammer (2009)Maternal trait anxiety, emotional distress, and salivary cortisol in pregnancy, In: Biological psychology83(3)pp. 169-175 Elsevier

    Animal models suggest that stress-induced hormonal changes in the mother during pregnancy lead to enduring changes in the fetus and empirical links between prenatal maternal stress and negative child development have been discerned repeatedly in human studies. But the role of heritable personality traits has received little attention in the latter work. The goal of the current study was to investigate the relationship between maternal personality, psychological measures of maternal distress and maternal salivary cortisol during pregnancy. Maternal reports of personality (16 PF) and stress-related psychological measures (depression, pregnancy-related anxiety, perceived stress, negative life events) as well as salivary cortisol samples of 66 healthy pregnant women were collected in early and late pregnancy. Maternal trait anxiety proved related to all stress-related psychological measures and high anxiety predicted low baseline cortisol awakening levels in early pregnancy. Maternal trait anxiety is related to both psychological and biological stress measures during pregnancy. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

    Wietse A. Tol, Alastair Ager, Cecile Bizouerne, Richard Bryant, Rabih El Chammay, Robert Colebunders, Claudia Garcia-Moreno, Syed Usman Hamdani, Leah E. James, Stefan C. J. Jansen, Marx R. Leku, Samuel Likindikoki, Catherine Panter-Brick, Michael Pluess, Courtland Robinson, Leontien Ruttenberg, Kevin Savage, Courtney Welton-Mitchell, Brian J. Hall, Melissa Harper Shehadeh, Anne Harmer, Mark van Ommeren (2020)Improving mental health and psychosocial wellbeing in humanitarian settings: reflections on research funded through R2HC, In: Conflict and health14(1)pp. 71-71 Springer Nature

    Major knowledge gaps remain concerning the most effective ways to address mental health and psychosocial needs of populations affected by humanitarian crises. The Research for Health in Humanitarian Crisis (R2HC) program aims to strengthen humanitarian health practice and policy through research. As a significant portion of R2HC's research has focused on mental health and psychosocial support interventions, the program has been interested in strengthening a community of practice in this field. Following a meeting between grantees, we set out to provide an overview of the R2HC portfolio, and draw lessons learned. In this paper, we discuss the mental health and psychosocial support-focused research projects funded by R2HC; review the implications of initial findings from this research portfolio; and highlight four remaining knowledge gaps in this field. Between 2014 and 2019, R2HC funded 18 academic-practitioner partnerships focused on mental health and psychosocial support, comprising 38% of the overall portfolio (18 of 48 projects) at a value of approximately 7.2 million GBP. All projects have focused on evaluating the impact of interventions. In line with consensus-based recommendations to consider a wide range of mental health and psychosocial needs in humanitarian settings, research projects have evaluated diverse interventions. Findings so far have both challenged and confirmed widely-held assumptions about the effectiveness of mental health and psychosocial interventions in humanitarian settings. They point to the importance of building effective, sustained, and diverse partnerships between scholars, humanitarian practitioners, and funders, to ensure long-term program improvements and appropriate evidence-informed decision making. Further research needs to fill knowledge gaps regarding how to: scale-up interventions that have been found to be effective (e.g., questions related to integration across sectors, adaptation of interventions across different contexts, and optimal care systems); address neglected mental health conditions and populations (e.g., elderly, people with disabilities, sexual minorities, people with severe, pre-existing mental disorders); build on available local resources and supports (e.g., how to build on traditional, religious healing and community-wide social support practices); and ensure equity, quality, fidelity, and sustainability for interventions in real-world contexts (e.g., answering questions about how interventions from controlled studies can be transferred to more representative humanitarian contexts).

    Michael Pluess, Ansgar Conrad, Frank H. Wilhelm (2008)Muscle tension in generalized anxiety disorder: A critical review of the literature, In: Journal of anxiety disorders23(1)pp. 1-11 Elsevier

    Background: Generalized anxiety disorder (CAD) is a prevalent, disabling, and often chronic disorder. With a typical recovery rate of only about 40% with Current psychological treatments a better understanding or potential psychophysiological mechanisms is vital. Methods: Since the most discriminative somatic symptom of GAD compared to other anxiety disorders is muscle tension this review qualitatively examines the literature on muscle tension as it relates to GAD and muscle relaxation therapy for CAD patients. Results: Muscle tension in GAD is poorly understood. Experimental studies refute the often-assumed direct relationship between anxiety and muscle tension. However, muscle relaxation therapies have been as effective as cognitive interventions directly addressing the defining symptom worry. Conclusions: Muscle tension in its objective and subjective representations may play a role in GAD through various pathways that are testable. Future research needs to better examine the different aspects and functions of muscle tension in CAD. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    Michael Pluess, Jay Belsky (2009)Differential susceptibility to rearing experience: the case of childcare, In: Journal of child psychology and psychiatry50(4)pp. 396-404 Wiley

    Background: Inconsistencies regarding developmental effects of non-maternal childcare may be caused by neglecting the possibility that children are differentially susceptible towards such experiences. Methods: Interactions between difficult/negative child temperament and childcare type, quantity, and quality on teacher-rated behavior problems and social competence at 54 months and in kindergarten were investigated via multiple regression using data from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care. Results: Childcare quality interacted with infant negativity in predicting behavior problems and social competence, whereas effects of quantity and type were independent of child temperament. Consistent with Belsky's (1997) differential susceptibility hypothesis, children with difficult temperaments as infants exhibited both more behavior problems when faced with low quality care and fewer when experiencing high quality care than children with easy temperaments. Conclusion: Negatively-emotional infants appear to be more affected by the quality of care they experience - both negatively and positively - than other young children.

    Michael Pluess, Jay Belsky, Baldwin M. Way, Shelley E. Taylor (2010)5-HTTLPR moderates effects of current life events on neuroticism: Differential susceptibility to environmental influences, In: Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry34(6)pp. 1070-1074 Elsevier Inc

    Research chronicling links between a polymorphism in the serotonin-transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) and neuroticism has yielded inconsistent results. One possible explanation for this inconsistency is that any gene–phenotype association is obscured by a gene-X-environment (GXE) interaction. We studied a healthy non-clinical sample ( N = 118) to determine whether the 5-HTTLPR interacts with current life events in predicting neuroticism. The differential-susceptibility hypothesis led to the prediction of such an interaction, reflecting the fact that individuals with short alleles would be affected more by both negative and positive life events than those homozygous for long alleles. Participants completed questionnaires concerning recent life events and neuroticism. The 5-HTTLPR was genotyped using a standard protocol with DNA extracted from oral fluid. For those homozygous for the short allele, more negative life events proved related to greater neuroticism, whereas more positive life events proved related to less neuroticism. No such association emerged in the case of those homozygous for the long allele. Whereas neuroticism is likely to be an especially stable trait in individuals homozygous for the long allele, this may be less so the case for those carrying short alleles.

    Francesca Lionetti, Antonio Dellagiulia, Giulia Prudentino, Maria Spinelli, Michael Pluess, Mirco Fasolo (2021)Is premature birth an environmental sensitivity factor? A scoping review protocol, In: BMJ open11(10)pp. e047015-e047015 Bmj Publishing Group

    Introduction Globally, around 10% of children are born preterm and are more at risk of negative developmental outcomes. However, empirical evidences and theoretical reasoning also suggest that premature birth can be a susceptibility factor, increasing sensitivity to the environment for better and for worse. Because available findings are controversial, with the current scoping review we will explore if, based on the available literature, preterm birth can be seen as an environmental sensitivity (ES) factor. In doing so, we will consider a series of moderating variables, including the level of prematurity, the type of environment and the outcome investigated. Methodological aspects, as the type of measures used and study design, will be considered. Methods and analysis The scoping review will be conducted following the Joanna Briggs Institute Methodology guidelines. The report will follow the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews checklist. We will perform the search between 15 January 2022 and 1 February 2022. Data will be chartered by independent reviewers. Ethics and dissemination Ethical approval is not required, as primary data will not be collected. This scoping review will be the first to explore whether prematurity is associated with an increased ES. This review can have important implications for tailoring prevention and intervention programmes. Results will be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

    Julia Jaekel, Michael Pluess, Jay Belsky, Dieter Wolke (2014)Effects of maternal sensitivity on low birth weight children's academic achievement: a test of differential susceptibility versus diathesis stress, In: Journal of child psychology and psychiatry56(6)pp. 693-701 Wiley

    BackgroundDifferential Susceptibility Theory (DST) postulates that some children are more affected - for better and for worse - by developmental experiences, including parenting, than others. Low birth weight (LBW, 1,500-2,499g) may not only be a predictor for neurodevelopmental impairment but also a marker for prenatally programmed susceptibility. The aim was to test if effects of sensitive parenting on LBW and very LBW (VLBW,

    Sandra Machlitt-Northen, Robert Keers, Patricia Munroe, David Howard, Michael Pluess (2022)Gene-Environment Correlation over Time: A Longitudinal Analysis of Polygenic Risk Scores for Schizophrenia and Major Depression in Three British Cohorts Studies, In: Genes13(7) Mdpi

    Research suggests that both genetic and environmental risk factors are involved in the aetiology of schizophrenia (SCZ) and major depressive disorder (MDD). Importantly, environmental and genetic risk factors are often related as evidenced in gene-environment correlation (rGE), which describes the observation that genetic and environmental factors are associated with each other. It is understood that rGE gets stronger over time as individuals select their environments more actively based on their genetic propensities. However, little is known whether rGEs remain stable over time or change across different development periods. Using data from three British longitudinal cohorts, we investigated whether rGE patterns of polygenic risk scores (PRS) for SCZ and MDD changed over time across childhood and adulthood, as well as across both from birth to age 55 and whether results differed between SCZ and MDD. Overall, the majority of rGEs remained stable across the investigated development periods. Furthermore, the few detected rGE changes which did differ between SCZ and MDD, could not be explained by the confounding of clinical cases and are therefore likely the result of actual changes in environmental and cultural risk factors with genetic susceptibility to SCZ and MDD likely playing a less significant role.

    Jay Belsky, Michael Pluess (2011)Differential susceptibility to long-term effects of quality of child care on externalizing behavior in adolescence?, In: International journal of behavioral development36(1)pp. 2-10 Sage

    Much research on the quality of child care reveals it-in the case of low-quality child care-to be related to poorer child functioning, net of confounding factors, perhaps especially in the case of cognitive-linguistic performance. Recent work using data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (USA) makes clear that when children's early negative emotionality/difficult temperament is taken into account, it also predicts externalizing problems reported by teachers through the primary school years. More negatively emotional infants are more affected-for better and for worse-by child care quality than less difficult ones, such that the latter appear unaffected by it but the former benefit from good quality care and are adversely affected by poor quality care. Here we determine whether the same is true when children are restudied in adolescence and the focus is their own reports of externalizing problems, impulsivity and risk taking. Results prove more consistent with a diathesis-stress model of environmental action than a differential-susceptibility-relatedone, in that 15-year-olds who were highly negative as infants report more externalizing behavior (but not risk taking or impulsivity) if they experienced low-quality child care, but not fewer problems if they experienced high-quality care relative to their counterparts with less difficult temperaments in infancy. Results are discussed in relation to physiological stress, with possible explanations offered as to why the predictive nature of child care experience might change over time.

    Demelza Smeeth, Fiona S McEwen, Cassandra M Popham, Elie G Karam, John Fayyad, Dahlia Saab, Michael J Rieder, Abdelbaset A Elzagallaai, Stan van Uum, Michael Pluess (2022)War exposure, post-traumatic stress symptoms and hair cortisol concentrations in Syrian refugee children, In: Molecular psychiatry28(2)pp. 647-656

    Altered secretion of cortisol, the primary effector of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, has been proposed as a means by which traumatic experiences compromise later mental health. However, despite the popularity of cortisol as a potential biomarker for stress and adversity, findings are inconsistent, and little is known about the impact of war-related trauma on stress physiology of children and adolescents. Here we aimed to evaluate the relationships between war exposure, current living conditions, hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in a large cohort of Syrian refugee children and adolescents (6-18 years) and their caregiver. This longitudinal observational study assessed Syrian refugee children and adolescents in two waves, 1 year apart, within informal tented settlements in Lebanon. The relationships between war exposure, time since leaving Syria, PTSD symptoms and HCC were investigated using linear mixed-model regression utilising both waves of data collected (Y1: N = 1574, Y2: N = 923). Hair cortisol concentration was positively, but weakly associated with the number of war-related events experienced. This was limited to those who were at least 12 years old at the time of war exposure. Conversely, HCC decreased with time since leaving Syria. HCC was also associated with PTSD symptoms but not with the quality of their current living conditions. This study revealed that changes to hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity may accompany both earlier war exposure and current PTSD symptoms in children and adolescents. Additionally, early adolescence may be a particularly sensitive time in terms of trauma-related changes to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

    Anne Sophie Bröhl, Karla Van Leeuwen, Michael Pluess, Filip De Fruyt, Elke Van Hoof, Sofie Weyn, Patricia Bijttebier (2021)Personality Profile of the Self-Identified Highly Sensitive Person, In: Journal of individual differences43(2)pp. 95-104

    The current paper presents a detailed examination of a lay theory perspective on the Sensory-Processing-Sensitivity (SPS) personality profile within the Five-Factor Model (FFM) of personality. The lay SPS personality profile was assessed by asking self-identified highly sensitive people to rate themselves on a Five-Factor Model questionnaire (NEO-PI-3). We applied the NEO-PI-3 norms (domains and facets) and examined the inter-rater agreement of the facets. The sample consisted of 560 (female: 86.43%, M age  = 37.36 years, SD age  = 6.64 years, 18.17–47.42 years) self-identified highly sensitive adults. Six facets, in particular, stood out with good and very good inter-rater agreement: participants fell within the highest 23% of the population on facets Fantasy, Aesthetics, Feelings (Openness to Experience); Anxiety, Depression (Neuroticism); and the lowest 23% of the population on the facet Gregariousness (Extraversion).

    Francesca Lionetti, Maria Spinelli, Ughetta Moscardino, Silvia Ponzetti, Maria Concetta Garito, Antonio Dellagiulia, Tiziana Aureli, Mirco Fasolo, Michael Pluess (2022)The interplay between parenting and environmental sensitivity in the prediction of children's externalizing and internalizing behaviors during COVID-19, In: Development and psychopathologypp. 1-14 Cambridge Univ Press

    The interplay of parenting and environmental sensitivity on children's behavioral adjustment during, and immediately after, the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions was investigated in two longitudinal studies involving Italian preschoolers (Study 1, N = 72; 43% girls, M (years) = 3.82(1.38)) and primary school children (Study 2, N = 94; 55% girls, M (years) = 9.08(0.56)). Data were collected before and during the first-wave lockdown (Studies 1 and 2) and one month later (Study 1). Parental stress and parent-child closeness were measured. Markers of environmental sensitivity in children were temperamental fearfulness and Sensory Processing Sensitivity. Results showed little change in externalizing and internalizing behaviors over time, but differences emerged when considering parenting and children's environmental sensitivity. In preschoolers, greater parenting stress was related to a stronger increase in internalizing and externalizing behaviors, with children high in fearful temperament showing a more marked decrease in externalizing behaviors when parenting stress was low. In school-aged children, parent-child closeness emerged as a protective factor for internalizing and externalizing behaviors during COVID-19, with children high in Sensory Processing Sensitivity showing a marked decrease in internalizing behaviors when closeness was high. Implications for developmental theory and practice in times of pandemic are discussed.

    Jay Belsky, Michael Pluess (2013)Beyond risk, resilience, and dysregulation: Phenotypic plasticity and human development, In: Development and psychopathology25(4)pp. 1243-1261 Cambridge Univ Press

    We provide a theoretical and empirical basis for the claim that individual differences exist in developmental plasticity and that phenotypic plasticity should be a subject of study in its own right. To advance this argument, we begin by highlighting challenges that evolutionary thinking poses for a science of development and psychopathology, including for the diathesis-stress framework that has (fruitfully) guided so much empirical inquiry on developmental risk, resilience, and dysregulation. With this foundation laid, we raise a series of issues that the differential-susceptibility hypothesis calls attention to, while highlighting findings that have emerged over just the past several years and are pertinent to some of the questions posed. Even though it is clear that this new perspective on Person x Environment interaction is stimulating research and influencing how hypotheses are framed and data interpreted, a great many topics remain that need empirical attention. Our intention is to encourage students of development and psychopathology to treat phenotypic plasticity as an individual-difference construct while exploring unknowns in the differential-susceptibility equation.

    John K. Coffey, S. Katherine Nelson-Coffey, Hannah Parsley, Michael Pluess (2022)Positive emotion expression at age 11 is associated with multiple well-being outcomes 39 years later, In: Current psychology (New Brunswick, N.J.) Springer Nature

    In this study, we investigated the association between positive emotion expression in children's writing at age 11, as indicated by objective raters, and age 50 self-reported well-being outcomes-positive emotions, optimism, life satisfaction, meaning in life, social well-being, and physical health. Using a representative sample (N = 436) from the United Kingdom who participated in the National Child Development Study (NCDS), we found that positive emotion expression at age 11 was related to greater optimism, life satisfaction, meaning in life, and social well-being, but not positive emotions or physical health, at age 50 after controlling for socioeconomic status (SES) in adulthood. The associations between positive emotion expression in childhood and well-being in adulthood remained significant when accounting for age 11 academic ability and SES. By using an observational measure of positive emotion during childhood and accounting for relationships among well-being outcomes in adulthood, our findings offer important insights regarding the long-term correlates of children's positive emotions.

    Hend Eltanamly, Patty Leijten, Eeske van Roekel, Benedicte Mouton, Michael Pluess, Geertjan Overbeek (2022)Strengthening parental self-efficacy and resilience: A within-subject experimental study with refugee parents of adolescents, In: Child development94(1)pp. 187-201 Wiley

    Post-migration stress and parenting adolescents can reduce parental self-efficacy. This study tested the effects of strengthening parental self-efficacy in refugee parents of adolescents and whether this makes parental self-efficacy less impacted by post-migration stressors. Using a within-subject experimental design, experience sampling data were collected in 2019 from 53 refugee parents of adolescents (M-age = 39.7, SDage = 5.59, 73% Syrian, 70% mothers) in the Netherlands. Data were analyzed by dynamic structural equation modeling using interrupted time-series analysis. The single-session personalized intervention strengthened parental self-efficacy (small effect: between case standardized mean difference = 0.09) and made refugee parents less vulnerable to post-migration stressors. Findings suggest that parental self-efficacy is malleable and strengthening it fosters refugee parents' resilience. Replications with longer-term follow-ups are needed.

    Corina U. Greven, Francesca Lionetti, Charlotte Booth, Elaine N. Aron, Elaine Fox, Haline E. Schendan, Michael Pluess, Hilgo Bruining, Bianca Acevedo, Patricia Bijttebier, Judith Homberg (2019)Sensory Processing Sensitivity in the context of Environmental Sensitivity: A critical review and development of research agenda, In: Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews98pp. 287-305 Elsevier Ltd

    [Display omitted] •SPS captures sensitivity to environment in a heritable, evolutionary-conserved trait, associated with increased information processing in the brain.•SPS moderates sensitivity to environments in a for-better-and-for-worse fashion.•Interaction with negative experiences, increases risk for psychopathology.•Interaction with positive experiences (including interventions), increases positive outcomes.•Objective assessment, mechanistic understanding and evidence-based interventions for high scoring individuals on SPS need to be improved. Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) is a common, heritable and evolutionarily conserved trait describing inter-individual differences in sensitivity to both negative and positive environments. Despite societal interest in SPS, scientific knowledge is lagging behind. Here, we critically discuss how SPS relates to other theories, how to measure SPS, whether SPS is a continuous vs categorical trait, its relation to other temperament and personality traits, the underlying aetiology and neurobiological mechanisms, and relations to both typical and atypical development, including mental and sensory disorders. Drawing on the diverse expertise of the authors, we set an agenda for future research to stimulate the field. We conclude that SPS increases risk for stress-related problems in response to negative environments, but also provides greater benefit from positive and supportive experiences. The field requires more reliable and objective assessment of SPS, and deeper understanding of its mechanisms to differentiate it from other traits. Future research needs to target prevention of adverse effects associated with SPS, and exploitation of its positive potential to improve well-being and mental health.

    Annalaura Nocentini, Ersilia Menesini, Michael Pluess (2018)The Personality Trait of Environmental Sensitivity Predicts Children's Positive Response to School-Based Antibullying Intervention, In: Clinical psychological science6(6)pp. 848-859 Sage

    Meta-analyses on the effectiveness of antibullying interventions show that average effects tend to be significant but small. Informed by the vantage sensitivity framework, the current study aimed to test in a large randomized controlled trial whether individual differences in environmental sensitivity predict treatment response to an antibullying intervention. A total of 2,042 pupils (Grades 4 and 6) were randomly assigned to a treatment or control condition. Significant intervention effects on victimization and internalizing symptoms were moderated by both environmental sensitivity and gender: Boys who scored high on sensitivity benefited significantly more than did less sensitive boys from the effects of the intervention regarding reduced victimization and internalizing symptoms. The findings are consistent with the notion of vantage sensitivity, suggesting that some individuals are disproportionately likely to respond to treatment and others are more resistant as a function of individual differences in environmental sensitivity.

    Ughetta Moscardino, Sara Scrimin, Francesca Lionetti, Michael Pluess (2021)Environmental sensitivity and cardiac vagal tone as moderators of the relationship between family support and well-being in low SES children: An exploratory study, In: Journal of social and personal relationships38(9)pp. 2772-2791 Sage

    This cross-sectional study explored whether the association between perceived family support and child well-being was moderated by the individual trait of Environmental Sensitivity (the ability to register, process, and respond to stimuli) and cardiac vagal tone (CVT, an index of self-regulation) in a sample of children living in socioeconomically disadvantaged families. Participating children (N = 131, M (age) = 7.20 years, 47% boys) were individually interviewed about the support received within the family as well as their physical and emotional well-being. Children's sensitivity was assessed via a series of behavioral tasks, and CVT was recorded at rest. Hierarchical cluster analysis on the behavioral items yielded three sensitivity groups: "Low sensitive" (43%), "Moderately sensitive" (33%), and "Highly sensitive" (24%). The three groups of children did not differ in baseline CVT. However, linear regression analyses revealed that at low and average levels of family support, highly sensitive children with higher resting CVT reported better well-being than those with low resting CVT, whereas no effect was observed among children in the other two groups. In the context of high family support, children reported high levels of well-being irrespective of their levels of vagal activity or sensitivity. The findings suggest that among low SES families, when children experience a poorly supportive family environment and are highly sensitive to negative experiences, having a higher resting CVT may confer an advantage in terms of well-being. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.

    Michael Pluess, Galena Rhoades, Rob Keers, Kayla Knopp, Jay Belsky, Howard Markman, Scott Stanley (2022)Genetic sensitivity predicts long-term psychological benefits of a relationship education program for married couples, In: Journal of consulting and clinical psychology90(2)pp. 195-207

    Relationship education programs have proven effective in promoting relationship quality and preventing divorce among married couples. However, according to theories of , people differ for genetic reasons in their sensitivity to environmental influences with some more affected by both negative and positive experiences, including psychological interventions. Here we test in two studies whether the positive effects of the established (PREP) are moderated by two different polygenic scores (PGS) for environmental sensitivity, one based on nine established candidate genes and one based on several thousand variants across the genome, derived from recent genome-wide association study (GWAS) results. Analyses were conducted in a randomized controlled study on PREP ( = 242) and then repeated in an independent replication trial ( = 183). Several significant PREP-X-PGS interactions indicated moderation of long-term treatment effects across the two studies, most of them involving the genome-wide score. Generally, higher genome-wide genetic sensitivity was associated with stronger intervention effects on almost all measures of relationship quality across the follow-up period. Findings provide further evidence that people differ substantially in their response to the positive effects of psychological intervention as a function of individual differences in genetic sensitivity, with more sensitive participants potentially benefitting more from relationship education. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

    Desiree Y. Phua, Michelle K. Z. L. Kee, Dawn X. P. Koh, Anne Rifkin-Graboi, Mary Daniels, Helen Chen, Yap Seng Chong, Birit F. P. Broekman, Iliana Magiati, Neerja Karnani, Michael Pluess, Michael J. Meaney, (2018)Positive maternal mental health during pregnancy associated with specific forms of adaptive development in early childhood: Evidence from a longitudinal study- CORRIGENDUM (vol 29, pg 1573, 2017), In: Development and psychopathology30(4)pp. 1547-1547 Cambridge Univ Press
    Francesca Lionetti, Daniel N. Klein, Massimiliano Pastore, Elaine N. Aron, Arthur Aron, Michael Pluess (2022)The role of environmental sensitivity in the development of rumination and depressive symptoms in childhood: a longitudinal study, In: European child & adolescent psychiatry31(11)pp. 1815-1825 Springer Berlin Heidelberg

    Some children are more affected than others by their upbringing due to their increased sensitivity to the environment. More sensitive children are at heightened risk for the development of internalizing problems, particularly when experiencing unsupportive parenting. However, little is known about how the interplay between children’s sensitivity and parenting leads to higher levels of depressive symptoms. In the current study, we investigated the interaction between early parenting and children’s sensitivity on levels of depressive symptomatology in middle childhood, exploring the role of rumination as a possible mediator in a community sample. Participants included 196 USA resident families, from a middle class and mostly European–American background, and their healthy children, followed up from age 3 until 9 and 12 years. Environmental sensitivity was assessed observationally when children were 3 years old. Parenting style was based on parent-report at the age of 3 years. When children were nine, they completed questionnaires on rumination and depressive symptoms (repeated at 12 years). Analyses were run applying a Bayesian approach. Children’s sensitivity interacted with permissive parenting in predicting rumination at age 9. Rumination, in turn, was associated with depressive symptoms at age 9 and, to a lesser extent, at age 12. No relevant interactions emerged for authoritative and authoritarian parenting. Sensitive children may be at heightened risk for internalizing problems when exposed to a permissive parenting style. Permissive parenting was associated with increased ruminative coping strategies in sensitive children which, in turn, predicted higher levels of depression. Hence, rumination emerged as an important cognitive risk factor for the development of depressive symptoms in sensitive children.

    Fiona S McEwen, Cassandra Popham, Patricia Moghames, Demelza Smeeth, Bernadette de Villiers, Dahlia Saab, Georges Karam, John Fayyad, Elie Karam, Michael Pluess (2022)Cohort profile: biological pathways of risk and resilience in Syrian refugee children (BIOPATH), In: Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology57(4)pp. 873-883

    The BIOPATH cohort was established to explore the interplay of psychosocial and biological factors in the development of resilience and mental health problems in Syrian refugee children. Based in Lebanon, a middle-income country significantly impacted by the refugee crisis, it is the first such cohort of refugees in the Middle East. Families were recruited from informal tented settlements in the Beqaa region using purposive cluster sampling. At baseline (October 2017-January 2018), N = 3188 individuals participated [n = 1594 child-caregiver dyads; child gender, 52.6% female; mean (SD) age = 11.44 (2.44) years, range = 6-19]. Re-participation rate at 1-year follow-up was 62.8%. Individual interviews were conducted with children and primary caregivers and biological samples collected from children. Measures include: (1) children's well-being and mental health problems (using tools validated against clinical interviews in a subsample of the cohort); (2) psychosocial risk and protective factors at the level of the individual (e.g. coping strategies), family (e.g. parent-child relationship), community (e.g. collective efficacy), and wider context (e.g. services); (3) saliva samples for genetic and epigenetic (methylation) analyses; (4) hair samples to measure cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and testosterone. This cohort profile provides details about sampling and recruitment, data collection and measures, demographic data, attrition and potential bias, key findings on resilience and mental health problems in children and strengths and limitations of the cohort. Researchers interested in accessing data should contact Professor Michael Pluess at Queen Mary University of London, UK (e-mail: m.pluess@qmul.ac.uk).

    Sofie Weyn, Karla Van Leeuwen, Michael Pluess, Francesca Lionetti, Luc Goossens, Guy Bosmans, Wim Van Den Noortgate, Dries Debeer, Anne Sophie Bröhl, Patricia Bijttebier (2022)Improving the Measurement of Environmental Sensitivity in Children and Adolescents: The Highly Sensitive Child Scale-21 Item Version, In: Assessment (Odessa, Fla.)29(4)pp. 607-629

    Children differ in their sensitivity to positive and negative environmental influences, which can be measured with the Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) scale. The present study introduces the HSC-21, an adaptation of the original 12 item scale with new items and factor structure that are meant to be more informative than the original ones. The psychometric properties of the HSC-21 were investigated in 1,088 children across Belgium and the Netherlands, including child and mother reports. Results showed evidence for (a) bifactor model with a general sensitivity factor and two specific factors (i.e., Ease of Excitation-Low Sensory Threshold and Aesthetic Sensitivity); (b) (partial) measurement invariance across gender, developmental stage, country, and informants; (c) moderate child-mother agreement; (d) good reliability; (e) normally distributed item scores; and (f) meaningful associations with personality and temperament across both samples. No evidence was found for HSC-21 as a moderator in the relationship between parenting and problem behaviors.

    Sofie Weyn, Karla Van Leeuwen, Michael Pluess, Francesca Lionetti, Corina U. Greven, Luc Goossens, Hilde Colpin, Wim Van den Noortgate, Karine Verschueren, Margot Bastin, Elke Van Hoof, Filip De Fruyt, Patricia Bijttebier (2021)Psychometric properties of the Highly Sensitive Child scale across developmental stage, gender, and country, In: Current psychology (New Brunswick, N.J.)40(7)pp. 3309-3325 Springer Nature

    Adolescents differ in their degree of Environmental Sensitivity, that is, the ability to perceive and process information about their environment. The present study aimed to investigate the psychometric properties of the Highly Sensitive Child scale (HSC), a self-report measure of Environmental Sensitivity, in two Belgian and UK samples with a total of 3056 adolescents. First, the factor structure, internal consistency, dimensionality, and construct validity of the HSC scale were examined. Second, measurement invariance of the HSC scale across developmental stage, gender, and country was tested. Results supported a bifactor model with a general sensitivity factor and three group factors: Ease of Excitation (EOE), Low Sensory Threshold (LST), and Aesthetic Sensitivity (AES). Cronbach's alpha and McDonalds's (hierarchical) omega indicated that the HSC scale is a reliable measure of Environmental Sensitivity, except for AES. Furthermore, AES was associated with different personality traits than EOE and LST. Second, the HSC scale was partially measurement invariant across developmental stage, gender, and country. The results provide important insights in the psychometrics of a first measurement of Environmental Sensitivity in early to late adolescents. Implications for further research are discussed.

    Anne Sophie Brohl, Karla Van Leeuwen, Michael Pluess, Filip De Fruyt, Margot Bastin, Sofie Weyn, Luc Goossens, Patricia Bijttebier (2021)First look at the five-factor model personality facet associations with sensory processing sensitivity, In: Current psychology (New Brunswick, N.J.)(42) Springer Nature

    A large number of gene-environment interaction studies provide evidence that some people are more likely to be negatively affected by adverse experiences as a function of specific genetic variants. However, such risk variants are surprisingly frequent in the population. Evolutionary analysis suggests that genetic variants associated with increased risk for maladaptive development under adverse environmental conditions are maintained in the population because they are also associated with advantages in response to different contextual conditions. These advantages may include (a) coexisting genetic resilience pertaining to other adverse influences, (b) a general genetic susceptibility to both low and high environmental quality, and (c) a coexisting propensity to benefit disproportionately from positive and supportive exposures, as reflected in the recent framework of vantage sensitivity. After introducing the basic properties of vantage sensitivity and highlighting conceptual similarities and differences with diathesis-stress and differential susceptibility patterns of gene-environment interaction, selected and recent empirical evidence for the notion of vantage sensitivity as a function of genetic differences is reviewed. The unique contribution that the new perspective of vantage sensitivity may make to our understanding of social inequality will be discussed after suggesting neurocognitive and molecular mechanisms hypothesized to underlie the propensity to benefit disproportionately from benevolent experiences.

    R. A. Power, M. Pluess (2015)Heritability estimates of the Big Five personality traits based on common genetic variants, In: Translational psychiatry5(7)pp. e604-e604 Springer Nature

    According to twin studies, the Big Five personality traits have substantial heritable components explaining 40-60% of the variance, but identification of associated genetic variants has remained elusive. Consequently, knowledge regarding the molecular genetic architecture of personality and to what extent it is shared across the different personality traits is limited. Using genomic-relatedness- matrix residual maximum likelihood analysis(GREML), we here estimated the heritability of the Big Five personality factors (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness for experience) in a sample of 5011 European adults from 527 469 single-nucleotide polymorphisms across the genome. We tested for the heritability of each personality trait, as well as for the genetic overlap between the personality factors. We found significant and substantial heritability estimates for neuroticism (15%, s.e. = 0.08, P = 0.04) and openness (21%, s.e. = 0.08, Po0.01), but not for extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness. The bivariate analyses showed that the variance explained by common variants entirely overlapped between neuroticism and openness (rG = 1.00, P < 0.001), despite low phenotypic correlation (r = -0.09, P < 0.001), suggesting that the remaining unique heritability may be determined by rare or structural variants. As far as we are aware of, this is the first study estimating the shared and unique heritability of all Big Five personality traits using the GREML approach. Findings should be considered exploratory and suggest that detectable heritability estimates based on common variants is shared between neuroticism and openness to experiences.

    Michael Pluess, Mel Bartley (2015)Childhood conscientiousness predicts the social gradient of smoking in adulthood: a life course analysis, In: Journal of epidemiology and community health (1979)69(4)pp. 330-338

    Background and aims The social gradient in smoking is well known, with higher rates among those in less advantaged socioeconomic position. Some recent research has reported that personality characteristics partly explain this gradient. However, the majority of existing work is limited by cross-sectional designs unsuitable to determine whether differences in conscientiousness are a predictor or a product of social inequalities. Adopting a life course perspective, we investigated in the current paper the influence of conscientiousness in early and mid-life on the social gradient in smoking and the role of potential confounding factors in a large longitudinal cohort study. Methods Using data from the 1958 National Child Development Study, we examined the extent to which two measures of conscientiousness, one assessed with a personality questionnaire at age 50 and one derived from three related items at 16 years in childhood, explained the social gradient of smoking at age 50 by comparing nested logistic regression models that included social class at birth, cognitive ability, attention and conduct problems at age 7, and educational qualification. Results Childhood conscientiousness was a significant predictor of smoking at 50 years (OR=0.86, CI (95%) 0.84 to 0.88), explaining 5.0% of the social gradient independent of all other variables. Childhood conscientiousness was a stronger predictor than adult conscientiousness, statistically accounting for the observed direct association of adult conscientiousness with smoking. Conclusions Conscientiousness may be a predictor rather than a product of social differences in smoking. Inclusion of personality measures and adoption of a life course perspective add significantly to our understanding of health inequalities.

    Michael Pluess, Jay Belsky (2010)Differential Susceptibility to Parenting and Quality Child Care, In: Developmental psychology46(2)pp. 379-390 Amer Psychological Assoc

    Research on differential susceptibility to rearing suggests that infants with difficult temperaments are disproportionately affected by parenting and child care quality, but a major U.S. child care study raises questions as to whether quality of care influences social adjustment. One thousand three hundred sixty-four American children from reasonably diverse backgrounds were followed from I month to 11 years with repeated observational assessments of parenting and child care quality, as well as teacher report and standardized assessments of children's cognitive-academic and social functioning, to determine whether those with histories of difficult temperament proved more susceptible to early rearing effects at ages 10 and 11. Evidence for such differential susceptibility emerges in the case of both parenting and child care quality and with respect to both cognitive-academic and social functioning. Differential susceptibility to parenting and child care quality extends to late middle childhood. J. Belsky, D. L. Vandell, et al.'s (2007) failure to consider such temperament-moderated rearing effects in their evaluation of long-term child care effects misestimates effects of child care quality on social adjustment.

    Michael Pluess, Jay Belsky (2012)Conceptual Issues in Psychiatric Gene-Environment Interaction Research, In: The American journal of psychiatry169(2)pp. 222-223 Amer Psychiatric Publishing, Inc
    Andrée-Anne Bouvette-Turcot, Michael Pluess, Annie Bernier, Marie-Hélène Pennestri, Robert Levitan, Marla B Sokolowski, James L Kennedy, Klaus Minde, Meir Steiner, Irina Pokhvisneva, Michael J Meaney, Hélène Gaudreau, (2015)Effects of Genotype and Sleep on Temperament, In: Pediatrics (Evanston)136(4)pp. e914-e921

    Sleep problems are frequent in young children; however, children vary in the degree to which they are affected by poor sleep quality. We investigated whether a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene, which is linked to emotional function, is a potential moderator of the influences of sleep duration on infant temperament using longitudinal data. We examined the interactive effects of average sleep duration between 6 and 36 months of age and the 5-HTTLPR genotype on negative emotionality/behavioral dysregulation at 36 months in 209 children recruited into a longitudinal birth cohort study. Triallelic genotyping of 5-HTTLPR was performed by looking at SLC6A4 genotype, focusing on the serotonin transporter-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) including the SNP polymorphism (rs23351). Child sleep habits were assessed with a maternal self-report questionnaire. After controlling for demographics and both previous and concurrent maternal depression, multiple linear regression analyses revealed a significant interaction effect of average sleep duration for the first 3 years of life and 5-HTTLPR genotype on child negative emotionality/behavioral dysregulation such that the effects were exclusive to those with low-expressing 5-HTTLPR genotypes. The results suggest differential susceptibility to the effect of sleep duration early in life, which reiterates that the short allele of the 5-HTTLPR represents a marker of increased environmental sensitivity regarding emotional development. Differential susceptibility theory posits that certain factors may increase an individual's susceptibility to the environment, in either a positive or negative fashion.

    Anne Sophie Brohl, Karla Van Leeuwen, Michael Pluess, Filip De Fruyt, Margot Bastin, Sofie Weyn, Luc Goossens, Patricia Bijttebier (2022)First look at the five-factor model personality facet associations with sensory processing sensitivity, In: Current psychology (New Brunswick, N.J.)41(8)pp. 5034-5047 Springer Nature

    The current paper presents an examination of the associations between Five-Factor Model (FFM) personality facets and Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) to understand which personality facets are especially relevant for SPS. Associations between SPS and the FFM personality domains and facets were examined in older adolescents and young adults (Study 1) as well as older children and young adolescents (Study 2). The most relevant facets were within the Neuroticism and Openness domains, although not all facets were equally important. Especially facets regarding internalizing tendencies and - in older adolescents and young adults - openness to aesthetics showed highest association with SPS. Facets of Extraversion were less associated to SPS. Facets of domains Agreeableness and Conscientiousness showed almost no relevance to SPS.

    Sofie Weyn, Karla Van Leeuwen, Michael Pluess, Luc Goossens, Stephan Claes, Guy Bosmans, Wim Van Den Noortgate, Erika Lutin, Anne Sophie Bröhl, Viktoria Chubar, Flore Geukens, Patricia Bijttebier (2022)Individual differences in environmental sensitivity at physiological and phenotypic level: Two sides of the same coin?, In: International journal of psychophysiology176(June 2022)pp. 36-53 Elsevier B.V

    Young adolescents are hypothesized to differ in their environmental sensitivity, at both phenotypic (i.e., Sensory Processing Sensitivity [SPS]) and physiological (i.e., biological stress response) level. This is the first study that investigated whether individual differences in environmental sensitivity at physiological level could be predicted by individual differences at phenotypic level, as measured with the HSC scale. A total of 101 adolescents (Mage = 11.61, SDage = 0.64) participated in a standardized social stress task (i.e., Trier Social Stress Task-Modified version for children and adolescents (TSST-M)). From baseline to the end of recovery, eight cortisol samples were collected, as well as a continuous measure of Autonomic Nervous System activity. Adolescents reported on SPS and on perceived stress before, during, and after TSST-M. As a follow-up analysis, the quality of the environment, the possible overlap with Neuroticism, and several covariates were considered. Multilevel models were used to investigate within- and between-person differences in stress reactivity across different systems. Results indicate significant individual differences in heart rate, heart rate variability, skin conductance, cortisol, and perceived stress in response to the TSST-M. Only for perceived stress significant differences in SPS were observed, with more sensitive individuals perceiving more negative and less positive affect. For environmental quality and the interaction between SPS and Neuroticism results showed higher recovery rates of heart rate in high quality environments and stronger cortisol responses for adolescents scoring high on both SPS and Neuroticism. Potential explanations for these findings and implications for current theorizing on environmental sensitivity are discussed. •Individual differences in Environmental Sensitivity at both physiological and phenotypic level within the same individuals•The role of person-environment interactions in the prediction of individual differences in stress reactivity•The inclusion of multiple physiological systems (i.e., ANS, HPA) and self-reported perceived stress across different phases of a standardized stress paradigm•A standardized stress paradigm, including a baseline, stress, and long recovery phase, for children and adolescents was used•The examination of within and between person variability in stress reactivity during a stress task using sophisticated (Bayesian) multilevel models

    M. Pluess, Jay Belsky (2013)Vantage Sensitivity: Individual Differences in Response to Positive Experiences, In: Psychological bulletin139(4)pp. 901-916 Amer Psychological Assoc

    The notion that some people are more vulnerable to adversity as a function of inherent risk characteristics is widely embraced in most fields of psychology. This is reflected in the popularity of the diathesis-stress framework, which has received a vast amount of empirical support over the years. Much less effort has been directed toward the investigation of endogenous factors associated with variability in response to positive influences. One reason for the failure to investigate individual differences in response to positive experiences as a function of endogenous factors may be the absence of adequate theoretical frameworks. According to the differential-susceptibility hypothesis, individuals generally vary in their developmental plasticity regardless of whether they are exposed to negative or positive influences-a notion derived from evolutionary reasoning. On the basis of this now well-supported proposition, we advance herein the new concept of vantage sensitivity, reflecting variation in response to exclusively positive experiences as a function of individual endogenous characteristics. After distinguishing vantage sensitivity from theoretically related concepts of differential-susceptibility and resilience, we review some recent empirical evidence for vantage sensitivity featuring behavioral, physiological, and genetic factors as moderators of a wide range of positive experiences ranging from family environment and psychotherapy to educational intervention. Thereafter, we discuss genetic and environmental factors contributing to individual differences in vantage sensitivity, potential mechanisms underlying vantage sensitivity, and practical implications.

    Michael Pluess (2015)Individual Differences in Environmental Sensitivity, In: Child development perspectives9(3)pp. 138-143 Wiley

    A fundamental trait found in most organisms is the ability to register, process, and respond to external factors. Although such environmental sensitivity is critical for adapting successfully to contextual conditions, individuals tend to differ in their sensitivity to the environment, with some more sensitive than others. Such differences in environmental sensitivity can be seen across many species, including humans. Although the notion of variability in environmental sensitivity is reflected indirectly in many traditional concepts of human psychology, several new frameworks address individual differences in environmental sensitivity more directly and from a perspective of developmental and evolutionary theory. In this article, I integrate these perspectives into a broad meta-framework before proposing ideas for research on individual differences in environmental sensitivity. I also emphasize that inter-individual variability in environmental sensitivity be considered in both theoretical and applied work.

    Keith F. Widaman, Jonathan L. Helm, Laura Castro-Schilo, Michael Pluess, Michael C. Stallings, Jay Belsky (2012)Distinguishing Ordinal and Disordinal Interactions, In: Psychological methods17(4)pp. 615-622 American Psychological Association

    Re-parameterized regression models may enable tests of crucial theoretical predictions involving interactive effects of predictors that cannot be tested directly using standard approaches. First, we present a re-parameterized regression model for the Linear X Linear interaction of 2 quantitative predictors that yields point and interval estimates of 1 key parameter-the crossover point of predicted values-and leaves certain other parameters unchanged. We explain how resulting parameter estimates provide direct evidence for distinguishing ordinal from disordinal interactions. We generalize the re-parameterized model to Linear X Qualitative interactions, where the qualitative variable may have 2 or 3 categories, and then describe how to modify the re-parameterized model to test moderating effects. To illustrate our new approach, we fit alternate models to social skills data on 438 participants in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care. The re-parameterized regression model had point and interval estimates of the crossover point that fell near the mean on the continuous environment measure. The disordinal form of the interaction supported 1 theoretical model-differential-susceptibility-over a competing model that predicted an ordinal interaction.

    Michael Pluess, Stephane A. De Brito, Alice Jones Bartoli, Eamon McCrory, Essi Viding (2020)Individual differences in sensitivity to the early environment as a function of amygdala and hippocampus volumes: An exploratory analysis in 12-year-old boys, In: Development and psychopathology34(3)pp. 901-910 Cambridge University Press

    Children differ in their response to environmental exposures, with some being more sensitive to contextual factors than others. According to theory, such variability is the result of individual differences in neurobiological sensitivity to environmental features, with some individuals generally more affected by both negative and/or positive experiences. In this exploratory study we tested whether left and right amygdala and hippocampus volumes (corrected for total brain size) account for individual differences in response to environmental influences in a sample of 62 boys. Cumulative general environmental quality, ranging from low to high, was measured across the first 9 years and child behavior was reported by teachers when boys were 12–13 years old. According to analyses, only the left amygdala volume – not any of the other brain volumes – emerged as an important brain region for sensitivity to positive environmental aspects. Boys with a larger left amygdala benefited significantly more from higher environmental quality than boys with a smaller left amygdala whilst not being more vulnerable to lower quality. Besides providing preliminary evidence for differences in environmental sensitivity due to brain structure, the results also point to the left amygdala as having a specific role regarding the response to environmental influences.

    Jay Belsky, Michael Pluess, Keith F. Widaman (2013)Confirmatory and competitive evaluation of alternative gene-environment interaction hypotheses, In: Journal of child psychology and psychiatry54(10)pp. 1135-1143 Wiley

    BackgroundMost gene-environment interaction (GXE) research, though based on clear, vulnerability-oriented hypotheses, is carried out using exploratory rather than hypothesis-informed statistical tests, limiting power and making formal evaluation of competing GXE propositions difficult. MethodWe present and illustrate a new regression technique which affords direct testing of theory-derived predictions, as well as competitive evaluation of alternative diathesis-stress and differential-susceptibility propositions, using data on the moderating effect of DRD4 with regard to the effect of childcare quality on children's social functioning. ResultsResults show that (a) the new approach detects interactions that the traditional one does not; (b) the discerned GXE fit the differential-susceptibility model better than the diathesis-stress one; and (c) a strong rather than weak version of differential susceptibility is empirically supported. ConclusionThe new method better fits the theoretical glove' to the empirical hand,' raising the prospect that some failures to replicate GXE results may derive from standard statistical approaches being less than ideal.

    Sandra Machlitt-Northen, Robert Keers, Patricia B Munroe, David M Howard, Vassily Trubetskoy, Michael Pluess (2022)Polygenic scores for schizophrenia and major depression are associated with psychosocial risk factors in children: evidence of gene-environment correlation, In: Journal of child psychology and psychiatry63(10)pp. 1140-1152

    Whilst genetic and environmental risk factors for schizophrenia (SCZ) and major depressive disorder (MDD) have been established, it is unclear whether exposure to environmental risk factors is genetically confounded by passive, evocative or active gene-environment correlation (rGE). This study aims to investigate: (a) whether the genetic risk for SCZ/MDD in children is correlated with established environmental and psychosocial risk factors in two British community samples, the 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS) and the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), (b) whether these associations vary between both psychopathologies, and (c) whether findings differ across the two cohorts which were born 42 years apart. Polygenic risk scores (PRS) from existing large genome-wide associations studies (GWAS) were applied to test the correlation between the child genetic risk for SCZ/MDD and known environmental risk factors. In addition, parental and child genetic data from MCS were used to distinguish between passive and evocative rGE. The child polygenic risk for SCZ and MDD was correlated with single parenthood in MCS. Moreover, the lack of father's involvement in child care was associated with the genetic risk for SCZ in NCDS. However, we also found associations between several indicators of low socioeconomic status and heightened genetic risk for MDD in children in both cohorts. Further, the genetic risk for MDD was associated with parental lack of interest in the child's education in NCDS as well as more maternal smoking and less maternal alcohol consumption during childhood in MCS. According to sensitivity analyses in MCS (controlling for parental genotype), more than half of our significant correlations reflected passive rGE. Findings suggest that several established environmental and psychosocial risk factors for SCZ and MDD are at least partially associated with children's genetic risk for these psychiatric disorders.

    Michael Pluess, Fleur P. Velders, Jay Belsky, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, Vincent W.V. Jaddoe, Albert Hofman, Pascal P. Arp, Frank C. Verhulst, Henning Tiemeier (2010)Serotonin Transporter Polymorphism Moderates Effects of Prenatal Maternal Anxiety on Infant Negative Emotionality, In: Biological psychiatry (1969)69(6)pp. 520-525 Elsevier Inc

    Consistent with the fetal programming hypothesis, effects of maternal prenatal anxiety have been found to predict various measures of infant temperament in the early postnatal period. In recent years, a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) emerged as a moderator of diverse environmental influences on different outcomes, with individuals carrying the short allele being generally more vulnerable to adversity. We tested whether the association between self-reported maternal anxiety at 20 weeks gestation (Brief Symptom Inventory) and mother-rated infant negative emotionality at 6 months after birth (Infant Behavior Questionnaire-Revised) would be moderated by the 5-HTTLPR in a large Dutch cohort sample ( n = 1513). We hypothesized that infants carrying the 5-HTTLPR short allele would be more susceptible and therefore more affected by both low and high prenatal maternal anxiety vis-à-vis negative emotionality than other genotypes. Findings of a significant gene × environment interaction ( B = .65, p = .01) were supportive of a vulnerability model, with infants carrying the short allele being more negatively emotional when mothers reported anxiety during pregnancy, whereas there was no difference between genotypes on negative emotionality when maternal anxiety was low. The association between maternal anxiety during pregnancy and negative emotionality in early infancy was significant in infants carrying one or more copies of the short allele but not in those homozygous for the long allele. The 5-HTTLPR short allele might increase vulnerability to adverse environmental influences as early as the fetal period.

    Cassandra M. Popham, Fiona S. McEwen, Elie Karam, John Fayyad, Georges Karam, Dahlia Saab, Patricia Moghames, Michael Pluess (2022)Predictors of psychological risk and resilience among Syrian refugee children, In: Journal of child psychology and psychiatry64(1)pp. 91-99 Wiley

    Objectives War-exposed refugee children are at elevated risk for mental health problems, but a notable proportion appear resilient. We aimed to investigate the proportion of Syrian refugee children who can be considered resilient, and applied a novel approach to identify factors predicting individual differences in mental health outcomes following war exposure. Methods The sample included 1,528 war-exposed Syrian refugee children and their primary caregiver living in refugee settlements in Lebanon. Children were classed as having low symptoms (LS) if they scored below clinically validated cut-offs for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and externalising behaviour problems. Children scoring above any cut-off were classified as having high symptoms (HS). Each LS child was matched with one HS who reported similar war exposure, to test what differentiates children with similar exposures but different outcomes. Results 19.3% of the children met our resilience criteria and were considered LS. At the individual level, protective traits (e.g. self-esteem; OR = 1.51, 95% CI [1.25, 1.81]) predicted LS classification, while environmental sensitivity (OR = 0.69, 95% CI [0.59, 0.82]), poorer general health (OR = 0.71, 95% CI [0.58, 0.87]) and specific coping strategies (e.g. avoidance; OR = 0.90, 95% CI [0.85, 0.96]) predicted HS classification. Social/environmental predictors included perceived social support (OR = 1.23, 95% CI [1.02, 1.49]), loneliness and social isolation (OR = 0.85, 95% CI [0.80, 0.90]), child maltreatment (OR = 0.96, 95% CI [0.94, 0.97]), and caregiver mental and general health (e.g. caregiver depression; OR = 0.94, 95% CI [0.92, 0.97]). Conclusions Future research should take multiple dimensions of functioning into account when defining risk for mental health problems and consider the identified predictors as potential targets for interventions.

    Tim Lomas, Meike Bartels, Margot Van de Weijer, Michael Pluess, Jeffrey Hanson, Tyler J. VanderWeele (2022)The Architecture of Happiness, In: Emotion Review14(4)pp. 288-309 Sage

    Happiness is an increasingly prominent topic of interest across academia. However, relatively little attention has been paid to how it is created, especially not in a multidimensional sense. By 'created' we do not mean its influencing factors, for which there is extensive research, but how it actually forms in the person. The work that has been done in this arena tends to focus on physiological dynamics, which are certainly part of the puzzle. But they are not the whole picture, with psychological, phenomenological, and socio cultural processes also playing their part. As a result, this paper offers a multidimensional overview of scholarship on the 'architecture' of happiness, providing a stimulus for further work into this important topic.

    Elham Assary, Helena M S Zavos, Eva Krapohl, Robert Keers, Michael Pluess (2020)Genetic architecture of Environmental Sensitivity reflects multiple heritable components: a twin study with adolescents, In: Molecular psychiatry26(9)pp. 4896-4904

    Humans differ substantially in how strongly they respond to similar experiences. Theory suggests that such individual differences in susceptibility to environmental influences have a genetic basis. The present study investigated the genetic architecture of Environmental Sensitivity (ES) by estimating its heritability, exploring the presence of multiple heritable components and its genetic overlap with common personality traits. ES was measured with the Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) questionnaire and heritability estimates were obtained using classic twin design methodology in a sample of 2868 adolescent twins. Results indicate that the heritability of sensitivity was 0.47, and that the genetic influences underlying sensitivity to negative experiences are relatively distinct from sensitivity to more positive aspects of the environment, supporting a multi-dimensional genetic model of ES. The correlation between sensitivity, neuroticism and extraversion was largely explained by shared genetic influences, with differences between these traits mainly attributed to unique environmental influences operating on each trait.

    Michael Pluess, Ilona Boniwell (2015)Sensory-Processing Sensitivity predicts treatment response to a school-based depression prevention program: Evidence of Vantage Sensitivity, In: Personality and individual differences82pp. 40-45 Elsevier Ltd

    •According to Vantage Sensitivity people differ in their sensitivity to intervention.•Sensory-Processing Sensitivity (SPS) may reflect high sensitivity to the environment.•SPS moderated treatment efficacy of a school-based prevention program.•Positive treatment effects emerged only in individuals scoring high on SPS.•Measurement of SPS may prove valuable in the prediction of treatment response. Treatment effects of preventative mental health interventions for adolescents tend to be relatively small. One reason for the small effects may be individual differences in the response to psychological treatment as a function of inherent characteristics, a notion proposed in the concept of Vantage Sensitivity. The current study investigated whether the personality trait Sensory-Processing Sensitivity moderated the efficacy of a new school-based intervention aimed at the prevention of depression. Using a two-cohort treatment/control design with one cohort serving as the control group (N=197) and a subsequent cohort as the treatment group (N=166) it was tested whether Sensory-Processing Sensitivity predicted depression trajectories from pre-treatment up to a 12months follow-up assessment in 11-year-old girls from an at-risk population in England. Sensory-Processing Sensitivity emerged as a significant predictor of treatment response. The prevention program successfully reduced depression scores in girls scoring high on Sensory-Processing Sensitivity but was not effective at all in girls scoring low on the same measure. This study provides first empirical evidence for Vantage Sensitivity as a function of the personality trait Sensory-Processing Sensitivity regarding treatment response to a school-based depression prevention intervention.

    Isabella Mutschler, Tonio Ball, Ursula Kirmse, Birgit Wieckhorst, Michael Pluess, Markus Klarhofer, Andrea H. Meyer, Frank H. Wilhelm, Erich Seifritz (2016)The Role of the Subgenual Anterior Cingulate Cortex and Amygdala in Environmental Sensitivity to Infant Crying, In: PloS one11(8)pp. No. 0161181-e0161181 Public Library Science

    Newborns and infants communicate their needs and physiological states through crying and emotional facial expressions. Little is known about individual differences in responding to infant crying. Several theories suggest that people vary in their environmental sensitivity with some responding generally more and some generally less to environmental stimuli. Such differences in environmental sensitivity have been associated with personality traits, including neuroticism. This study investigated whether neuroticism impacts neuronal, physiological, and emotional responses to infant crying by investigating blood-oxygenation-level dependent (BOLD) responses using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a large sample of healthy women (N = 102) with simultaneous skin conductance recordings. Participants were repeatedly exposed to a video clip that showed crying infants and emotional responses (valence, arousal, and irritation) were assessed after every video clip presentation. Increased BOLD signal during the perception of crying infants was found in brain regions that are associated with emotional responding, the amygdala and anterior insula. Significant BOLD signal decrements (i.e., habituation) were found in the fusiform gyrus, middle temporal gyrus, superior temporal gyrus, Broca's homologue on the right hemisphere, (laterobasal) amygdala, and hippocampus. Individuals with high neuroticism showed stronger activation in the amygdala and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) when exposed to infant crying compared to individuals with low neuroticism. In contrast to our prediction we found no evidence that neuroticism impacts fMRI-based measures of habituation. Individuals with high neuroticism showed elevated skin conductance responses, experienced more irritation, and perceived infant crying as more unpleasant. The results support the hypothesis that individuals high in neuroticism are more emotionally responsive, experience more negative emotions, and may show enhanced cognitive control during the exposure to infant distress, which may impact infant-directed behavior.

    Jay Belsky, Michael Pluess (2009)Beyond Diathesis Stress: Differential Susceptibility to Environmental Influences, In: Psychological bulletin135(6)pp. 885-908 Amer Psychological Assoc

    Evolutionary-biological reasoning suggests that individuals should be differentially Susceptible to environmental influences, with sortie people being not just more vulnerable than others to the negative effects of adversity. as the prevailing diathesis-stress view of psychopathology (and of many environmental influences) maintains, but also disproportionately susceptible to the beneficial effects of supportive and enriching experiences (or just the absence of adversity) Evidence consistent with the proposition that individuals differ in plasticity is reviewed The author.,; document multiple instances in which (a) phenotypic temperamental characteristics. (b) endophenotypic attributes, and (c) specific genes function less like "vulnerability factors" and more like "plasticity factors," thereby rendering some individuals more malleable or susceptible than others to both negative and positive environmental influences Discussion focuses upon limits of the evidence, statistical criteria for distinguishing differential susceptibility from diathesis stress. potential mechanisms of influence. and unknowns in the differential susceptibility equation

    Peter Brown, Relish Consortium, Yaoqi Zhou, Michael Pluess (2019)Large expert-curated database for benchmarking document similarity detection in biomedical literature search, In: Database (Weston)2019 Online Inc

    Citation details: Brown,P., RELISH Consortium, Zhou,Y. Large expert-curated database for benchmarking document similarity detection in biomedical literature search. Abstract Document recommendation systems for locating relevant literature have mostly relied on methods developed a decade ago. This is largely due to the lack of a large offline gold-standard benchmark of relevant documents that cover a variety of research fields such that newly developed literature search techniques can be compared, improved and translated into practice. To overcome this bottleneck, we have established the RElevant LIterature SearcH consortium consisting of more than 1500 scientists from 84 countries, who have collectively annotated the relevance of over 180 000 PubMed-listed articles with regard to their respective seed (input) article/s. The majority of annotations were contributed by highly experienced, original authors of the seed articles. The collected data cover 76% of all unique PubMed Medical Subject Headings descriptors. No systematic biases were observed across different experience levels, research fields or time spent on annotations. More importantly, annotations of the same document pairs contributed by different scientists were highly concordant. We further show that the three representative baseline methods used to generate recommended articles for evaluation (Okapi Best Matching 25, Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency and PubMed Related Articles) had similar overall performances. Additionally, we found that these methods each tend to produce distinct collections of recommended articles, suggesting that a hybrid method may be required to completely capture all relevant articles. The established database server located at https://relishdb.ict.griffith.edu.au is freely available for the downloading of annotation data and the blind testing of new methods. We expect that this benchmark will be useful for stimulating the development of new powerful techniques for title and title/abstract-based search engines for relevant articles in biomedical research.

    Alexia Jolicoeur-Martineau, Jay Belsky, Eszter Szekely, Keith F. Widaman, Michael Pluess, Celia Greenwood, Ashley Wazana (2020)Distinguishing differential susceptibility, diathesis-stress, and vantage sensitivity: Beyond the single gene and environment model, In: Development and psychopathology32(1)pp. 73-83 Cambridge Univ Press

    Currently, two main approaches exist to distinguish differential susceptibility from diathesis-stress and vantage sensitivity in Genotype x Environment interaction (G x E) research: regions of significance (RoS) and competitive-confirmatory approaches. Each is limited by its single-gene/single-environment foci given that most phenotypes are the product of multiple interacting genetic and environmental factors. We thus addressed these two concerns in a recently developed R package (LEGIT) for constructing G x E interaction models with latent genetic and environmental scores using alternating optimization. Herein we test, by means of computer simulation, diverse G x E models in the context of both single and multiple genes and environments. Results indicate that the RoS and competitive-confirmatory approaches were highly accurate when the sample size was large, whereas the latter performed better in small samples and for small effect sizes. The competitive-confirmatory approach generally had good accuracy (a) when effect size was moderate and N >= 500 and (b) when effect size was large and N >= 250, whereas RoS performed poorly. Computational tools to determine the type of G x E of multiple genes and environments are provided as extensions in our LEGIT R package.

    Applying innovative methodology, we explored the efficacy of SPARK Resilience Programme--a new universal school-based resilience-promoting programme--regarding effects on depression symptoms and resilience in a high risk population in England. Quantitative and qualitative methods were combined in an exploratory two cohort treatment/control design with one cohort serving as the control group (single assessment) and a subsequent cohort as the treatment group (assessed before and immediately after treatment as well as 6 and 12 months after treatment ended), involving a total of 438 11-13 year old girls, According to analyses, depression symptoms were significantly lower directly after treatment and at 6 months but no longer at 12 months. Resilience scores, on the other hand, were significantly higher in the treatment cohort compared to the year-ahead control cohort at post-treatment and both follow-up assessments. Qualitative results demonstrated beneficial teacher experience overall. The current study provides first evidence for the efficacy of SPARK Resilience Programme. Furthermore, the applied two cohort treatment/control mixed methods design proved helpful for the preliminary testing of a school-based universal intervention programme efficacy in an authentic setting.

    Francesca Lionetti, Arthur Aron, Elaine N. Aron, G. Leonard Burns, Jadzia Jagiellowicz, Michael Pluess (2018)Dandelions, tulips and orchids: evidence for the existence of low-sensitive, medium-sensitive and high-sensitive individuals, In: Translational psychiatry8(24) Springer Nature

    According to empirical studies and recent theories, people differ substantially in their reactivity or sensitivity to environmental influences with some being generally more affected than others. More sensitive individuals have been described as orchids and less-sensitive ones as dandelions. Applying a data-driven approach, we explored the existence of sensitivity groups in a sample of 906 adults who completed the highly sensitive person (HSP) scale. According to factor analyses, the HSP scale reflects a bifactor model with a general sensitivity factor. In contrast to prevailing theories, latent class analyses consistently suggested the existence of three rather than two groups. While we were able to identify a highly sensitive (orchids, 31%) and a low-sensitive group (dandelions, 29%), we also detected a third group (40%) characterised by medium sensitivity, which we refer to as tulips in keeping with the flower metaphor. Preliminary cut-off scores for all three groups are provided. In order to characterise the different sensitivity groups, we investigated group differences regarding the Big Five personality traits, as well as experimentally assessed emotional reactivity in an additional independent sample. According to these follow-up analyses, the three groups differed in neuroticism, extraversion and emotional reactivity to positive mood induction with orchids scoring significantly higher in neuroticism and emotional reactivity and lower in extraversion than the other two groups (dandelions also differed significantly from tulips). Findings suggest that environmental sensitivity is a continuous and normally distributed trait but that people fall into three distinct sensitive groups along a sensitivity continuum.

    Demelza Smeeth, Stephan Beck, Elie G. Karam, Michael Pluess (2021)The role of epigenetics in psychological resilience, In: The Lancet. Psychiatry8(7)pp. 620-629 Elsevier

    There is substantial variation in people's responses to adversity, with a considerable proportion of individuals displaying psychological resilience. Epigenetic mechanisms are hypothesised to be one molecular pathway of how adverse and traumatic events can become biologically embedded and contribute to individual differences in resilience. However, not much is known regarding the role of epigenetics in the development of psychological resilience. In this Review, we propose a new conceptual model for the different functions of epigenetic mechanisms in psychological resilience. The model considers the initial establishment of the epigenome, epigenetic modification due to adverse and protective environments, the role of protective factors in counteracting adverse influences, and genetic moderation of environmentally induced epigenetic modifications. After reviewing empirical evidence for the various components of the model, we identify research that should be prioritised and discuss practical implications of the proposed model for epigenetic research on resilience.

    Francesca Lionetti, Massimiliano Pastore, Ughetta Moscardino, Annalaura Nocentini, Karen Pluess, Michael Pluess (2019)Sensory Processing Sensitivity and its association with personality traits and affect: A meta-analysis, In: Journal of research in personality81(August 2019)pp. 138-152 Elsevier Inc

    •Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) is related but relatively distinct from common personality traits and affect.•SPS correlates positively with neuroticism in children and adults.•SPS correlates positively with openness in adults only.•SPS in children is moderately associated with both positive and negative affect.•SPS in adults is moderately associated with negative affect. In two Bayesian meta-analyses, we investigated associations between Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) and the Big Five personality traits (MA1) as well as both Positive and Negative Affect (MA2). Moderators were age and the three SPS subscales. In MA1 (8 papers, 6790 subjects), SPS in children correlated with Neuroticism (r = 0.42) but did not with Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness or Conscientiousness. In adults, SPS correlated with Openness (r = 0.14) and Neuroticism (r = 0.40) but did not with Extraversion, Agreeableness or Conscientiousness. In MA2 (19 papers, 5326 subjects), SPS in children correlated with Negative (r = 0.29) and Positive Affect (r = 0.21), but only with Negative Affect (r = 0.34) in adults. Developmental and measurement aspects are discussed.

    Michael Pluess, Harald Wurmser, Angelika Buske-Kirschbaum, Mechthild Papousek, Karl-Martin Pirke, Dirk Hellhammer, Margarete Bolten (2012)Positive life events predict salivary cortisol in pregnant women, In: Psychoneuroendocrinology37(8)pp. 1336-1340 Elsevier Ltd

    Maternal stress during pregnancy has been repeatedly associated with problematic child development. According to the fetal programming hypothesis adverse experiences during pregnancy increase maternal cortisol, which is then assumed to exert a negative effect on fetal development. Recent studies in non-pregnant women report significant associations between positive emotionality and low cortisol levels. We tested in a sample of 60 pregnant women whether both negative and positive life events independently predicted third-trimester baseline awakening cortisol levels. While the effect of negative life events proved unrelated positive life events significantly predicted lower cortisol levels. These findings suggest that positive experiences are of relevance regarding maternal morning cortisol levels in pregnancy reflecting a resource with potentially beneficial effects for the mother and the developing fetus. It might be promising for psychological intervention programs to focus on increasing positive experiences of the expecting mother rather than exclusively trying to reduce maternal stress during pregnancy.

    Patricia P. Silveira, Irina Pokhvisneva, Carine Parent, Shirong Cai, Anu Sathyan Sathyapalan Rema, Birit F. P. Broekman, Anne Rifkin-Graboi, Michael Pluess, Kieran J. O'Donnell, Michael J. Meaney (2017)Cumulative prenatal exposure to adversity reveals associations with a broad range of neurodevelopmental outcomes that are moderated by a novel, biologically informed polygenetic score based on the serotonin transporter solute carrier family C6, member 4 (SLC6A4) gene expression, In: Development and psychopathology29(5)pp. 1601-1617 Cambridge Univ Press

    While many studies focus on the association between early life adversity and the later risk for psychopathology, few simultaneously explore diverse forms of environmental adversity. Moreover, those studies that examined the cumulative impact of early life adversity focus uniquely on postnatal influences. The objective of this study was to focus on the fetal period of development to construct and validate a cumulative prenatal adversity score in relation to a wide range of neurodevelopmental outcomes. We also examined the interaction of this adversity score with a biologically informed genetic score based on the serotonin transporter gene. Prenatal adversities were computed in two community birth cohorts using information on health during pregnancy, birth weight, gestational age, income, domestic violence/sexual abuse, marital strain, as well as maternal smoking, anxiety, and depression. A genetic score based on genes coexpressed with the serotonin transporter in the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex during prenatal life was constructed with an emphasis on functionally relevant single nucleotide polymorphisms, that is, expression quantitative trait loci. Prenatal adversities predicted a wide range of developmental and behavioral alterations in children as young as 2 years of age in both cohorts. There were interactions between the genetic score and adversities for several domains of the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), with pervasive developmental problems remaining significant adjustment for multiple comparisons. Scores combining different prenatal adverse exposures predict childhood behavior and interact with the genetic background to influence the risk for psychopathology.

    Elie G Karam, John A Fayyad, Claudia Farhat, Michael Pluess, Youmna C Haddad, Caroline C Tabet, Lynn Farah, Ronald C Kessler (2019)Role of childhood adversities and environmental sensitivity in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder in war-exposed Syrian refugee children and adolescents, In: British journal of psychiatry214(6)pp. 354-360

    Increased post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rates have been documented in children exposed to war. However, the contribution of childhood adversities and environmental sensitivity to children's responses to adversities and trauma are still far from settled.AimsTo evaluate the relative roles of war, childhood adversities and sensitivity in the genesis of PTSD. Data on childhood adversities and sensitivity was collected from 549 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. PTSD symptoms were assessed using the PTSD Reaction Index. Although childhood adversities, war events and sensitivity were all significantly related to PTSD in bivariate analyses, multivariate analyses showed that childhood adversities were the most important variable in predicting PTSD. The effect of war on PTSD was found to be dependent on the interplay between childhood adversities and sensitivity, and was most prominent in highly sensitive children with lower levels of adversities; in sensitive children experiencing high levels of adversities, the effects of war exposure on PTSD were less pronounced. When considering the effects of war on PTSD in refugee children, it is important to take account of the presence of other adversities as well as of children's sensitivity. Sensitive children may be more vulnerable to the negative effects of war exposure, but only in contexts that are characterised by low childhood adversities.Declaration of interestNone.

    Bernadette de Villiers, Francesca Lionetti, Michael Pluess (2018)Vantage sensitivity: a framework for individual differences in response to psychological intervention, In: SOCIAL PSYCHIATRY AND PSYCHIATRIC EPIDEMIOLOGY53(6)pp. 545-554 Springer Nature

    People differ significantly in their response to psychological intervention, with some benefitting more from treatment than others. According to the recently proposed theoretical framework of vantage sensitivity, some of this variability may be due to individual differences in environmental sensitivity, the inherent ability to register, and process external stimuli. In this paper, we apply the vantage sensitivity framework to the field of psychiatry and clinical psychology, proposing that some people are more responsive to the positive effects of psychological intervention due to heightened sensitivity. After presenting theoretical frameworks related to environmental sensitivity, we review a selection of recent studies reporting individual differences in the positive response to psychological intervention. A growing number of studies report that some people benefit more from psychological intervention than others as a function of genetic, physiological, and psychological characteristics. These studies support the vantage sensitivity proposition that treatment response is influenced by factors associated with heightened sensitivity to environmental influences. More recently, studies have also shown that sensitivity can be measured with a short questionnaire which appears to predict the response to psychological intervention. Vantage sensitivity is a framework with significant relevance for our understanding of widely observed heterogeneity in treatment response. It suggests that variability in response to treatment is partly influenced by people's differing capacity for environmental sensitivity, which can be measured with a short questionnaire. Application of the vantage sensitivity framework to psychiatry and clinical psychology may improve our knowledge regarding when, how, and for whom interventions work.

    Sandra Machlitt-Northen, Robert Keers, Patricia B. Munroe, David M. Howard, Michael Pluess (2022)Polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia and major depression are associated with socio-economic indicators of adversity in two British community samples, In: Translational psychiatry12(1)pp. 477-477 Springer Nature

    Schizophrenia (SCZ) and major depressive disorder (MDD) are complex psychiatric disorders which contribute substantially to the global burden of disease. Both psychopathologies are heritable with some genetic overlap between them. Importantly, SCZ and MDD have also been found to be associated with environmental risk factors. However, rather than being independent of genetic influences, exposure to environmental risk factors may be under genetic control, known as gene-environment correlation (rGE). In this study we investigated rGE in relation to polygenic risk scores for SCZ and MDD in adults, derived from large genome-wide association studies, across two different British community samples: Understanding Society (USoc) and the National Child Development Study (NCDS). We tested whether established environmental risk factors for SCZ and/or MDD are correlated with polygenic scores in adults and whether these associations differ between the two disorders and cohorts. Findings partially overlapped between disorders and cohorts. In NCDS, we identified a significant correlation between the genetic risk for MDD and an indicator of low socio-economic status, but no significant findings emerged for SCZ. In USoc, we replicated associations between indicators of low socio-economic status and the genetic propensity for MDD. In addition, we identified associations between the genetic susceptibility for SCZ and being single or divorced. Results across both studies provide further evidence that the genetic risk for SCZ and MDD were associated with common environmental risk factors, specifically MDD's association with lower socio-economic status.

    Elham Assary, John Paul Vincent, Robert Keers, Michael Pluess (2017)Gene-environment interaction and psychiatric disorders: Review and future directions, In: Seminars in cell & developmental biology77( May 2018)pp. 133-143

    Empirical studies suggest that psychiatric disorders result from a complex interplay between genetic and environmental factors. Most evidence for such gene-environment interaction (GxE) is based on single candidate gene studies conducted from a Diathesis-Stress perspective. Recognizing the short-comings of candidate gene studies, GxE research has begun to focus on genome-wide and polygenic approaches as well as drawing on different theoretical concepts underlying GxE, such as Differential Susceptibility. After reviewing evidence from candidate GxE studies and presenting alternative theoretical frameworks underpinning GxE research, more recent approaches and findings from whole genome approaches are presented. Finally, we suggest how future GxE studies may unpick the complex interplay between genes and environments in psychiatric disorders.

    Jay Belsky, Michael Pluess (2013)Genetic Moderation of Early Child-Care Effects on Social Functioning Across Childhood: A Developmental Analysis, In: Child development84(4)pp. 1209-1225 Wiley

    Data from 508 Caucasian children in the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development shows that the DRD4 (but not 5-HTTLPR) polymorphism moderates the effect of child-care quality (but not quantity or type) on caregiver-reported externalizing problems at 54months and in kindergarten and teacher-reported social skills at kindergarten and first gradebut not thereafter. Only children carrying the 7-repeat allele proved susceptible to quality-of-care effects. The behavior-problem interactions proved more consistent with diathesis-stress than differential-susceptibility thinking, whereas the reverse was true of the social-skills' results. Finally, the discerned Gene x Environment interactions did not account for previously reported parallel ones involving difficult temperament in infancy.