Domain Specificity of Differential Susceptibility: Testing an Evolutionary Theory of Temperament in Early Childhood

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According to differential susceptibility theory (DST), some children may be more sensitive to both positive and negative features of the environment. However, research has generated a list of widely disparate temperamental traits that may reflect differential susceptibility to the environment. In addition, findings have implicated these temperament × environment interactions in predicting a wide variety of child outcomes. This study uses a novel evolutionary model of temperament to examine whether differential susceptibility operates in a domain-general or domain-specific manner. Using a racially and socioeconomically diverse sample of 243 preschoolers and their parents (56% female; 48% African American), we examined the interactions between maternal and paternal parenting quality and two evolutionary informed temperament profiles (i.e., Hawks and Doves) in predicting changes in teacher-reported conduct problems and depressive symptoms from preschool to first grade. Results suggest that differential susceptibility operates in a domain-specific fashion. Specifically, the "Hawk" temperament was differentially susceptible to maternal parenting in predicting externalizing problems. In contrast, the "Dove" temperament was susceptible to both paternal and maternal parenting quality in predicting changes in depressive symptoms. Findings provide support for an integrative framework that synthesizes DST with an evolutionary, function-based approach to temperament.