Development and Psychopathology

Research Article

Families at risk for psychopathology: Who becomes affected and why?

Richard Rendea1 c1 and Robert Plomina2

a1 Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

a2 Center for Developmental and Health Genetics, College of Health and Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University


We examine resilience in relation to one type of risk — familial risk — from a genetic perspective. Specifically, we ask why only some children growing up with the same familial risk develop psychopathology. Unlike environmental theories, genetics predicts that children in the same family will differ in their outcomes. That is, some children in a family at risk are unaffected not because they are resilient but because they are not at risk genetically. Eventually, some of the genes responsible for genetic risk will be identified, making it possible to predict which children in a family will be affected. Resilience from a genetic perspective can be viewed as the extent to which children at genetic risk are not affected. In addition, there may be genetic contributions to resilience that protect some individuals in high-risk families. Finally, genetic research has shown that salient environment influences often operate in a nonshared manner, making children in the same family different. Research on nonshared environmental factors will advance our understanding of environmental origins of resilience by focusing on environmental reasons why children growing up in high-risk families have such different outcomes.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Richard Rende, Ph.D., Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Unit 44, 722 West 168 Street, New York, NY 10032.