Stress and psychopathology in children and adolescents: is there evidence of specificity?


  • 1

    We use the term ‘youth’ throughout this review to refer to children and adolescents.

  • 2

    Some of the studies fit into more than one category, so they are cross-referenced in Table 1.

Susan D. McMahon, Department of Psychology, DePaul University, 2219 N. Kenmore, Chicago, IL, 60614, USA; Tel: 773-325-2039; Email:


Research on the relations between specific stressors and specific psychological outcomes among children and adolescents is reviewed. Specificity, the notion that particular risk factors are uniquely related to particular outcomes is discussed from a theoretical perspective, and models of specificity are described. Several domains of stressors are examined from a specificity framework (e.g., exposure to violence, abuse, and divorce/marital conflict) in relation to broad-band outcomes of internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Studies that tested for specificity conducted within the past 15 years are examined, and definitional problems are highlighted. Little evidence for specificity was found. Methodological problems in the literature and the lack of theory-driven specificity research are discussed, and directions for future research are identified.