Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Monday, May 1, 2006

A Gene for Resilience?

"Over the last several decades, a small group of researchers has tried to understand how a minority of maltreated children exceed expectations. The grandfather of resilience theory is Norman Garmezy, who by the 1960's had begun asking why some children of schizophrenics fared better than others. In the 1970's, Ann Masten joined Garmezy at the University of Minnesota, and the two, along with others, started a project spanning more than two decades. They looked at a child's personality, among other things, imagining resilience as a function of temperament, will or intelligence. While children of average intelligence or above were more likely to exhibit resilience, the researchers noted that good relationships with adults can exert an effect that is as powerful, if not more, in mitigating the effects of adversity.

In recent years, biological science has proposed a new paradigm. The latest research shows that resilience can best be understood as an interplay between particular genes and environment — GxE, in the lingo of the field. Researchers are discovering that a particular variation of a gene can help promote resilience in the people who have it, acting as a buffer against the ruinous effects of adversity. In the absence of an adverse environment, however, the gene doesn't express itself in this way. It drops out of the psychological picture. "We now have well-replicated findings showing that genes play a major role in influencing people's responses to adverse environments," says Sir Michael Rutter, a leading British psychiatrist and longtime resilience expert. "But the genes don't do anything much on their own."" By Emily Bazelon, New York Times Link to Article (last visited 4-30-06 NVS)

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