Research Review: Genetic vulnerability or differential susceptibility in child development: the case of attachment


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg and Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, Centre for Child and Family Studies, Leiden University, P.O. Box 9555, 2300 RB Leiden, The Netherlands; Tel +31 71 5273434; Fax +31 71 5273945; Email:;


Gene–environment interactions interpreted in terms of differential susceptibility may play a large part in the explanation of individual differences in human development. Reviewing studies on the behavioral and molecular genetics of attachment, we present evidence for interactions between genetic and environmental factors explaining individual differences in attachment security and disorganization. In particular, the DRD4 7-repeat polymorphism seems associated with an increased risk for disorganized attachment, but only when combined with environmental risk. Gene–environment (G × E) interactions may be interpreted as genetic vulnerability or differential susceptibility. We found support for the differential susceptibility hypothesis predicting not only more negative outcomes for susceptible children in unfavorable environments, but also positive outcomes for susceptible children in favorable environments.