Development and Psychopathology


Effects of divorce on Dutch boys' and girls' externalizing behavior in Gene × Environment perspective: Diathesis stress or differential susceptibility in the Dutch Tracking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey study?

Esther Nederhofa1, Jay Belskya2a3a4 c1, Johan Ormela1 and Albertine J. Oldehinkela1

a1 University Medical Center Groningen

a2 University of California, Davis

a3 King Abdulaziz University

a4 Birkbeck University of London


The effects of divorce on children's behavioral development have proven to be quite varied across studies, and most developmental and family scholars today appreciate the great heterogeneity in divorce effects. Thus, this inquiry sought to determine whether select dopaminergic genes previously associated with externalizing behavior and/or found to moderate diverse environmental effects (dopamine receptors D2 and D4, catechol-O-methyltransferase) might moderate divorce effects on adolescent self-reported externalizing problems; and, if so, whether evidence of gene–environment (G × E) interaction would prove consistent with diathesis–stress or differential-susceptibility models of environmental action. Data from the first and third wave of the Dutch Tracking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey (n = 1,134) revealed some evidence of G × E interaction reflecting diathesis–stress but not differential susceptibility. It is intriguing that some evidence pointed to “vantage sensitivity,” which are benefits accruing to those with a specific genotype when their parents remained together, the exact opposite of diathesis–stress. The limits of this work are considered, especially with regard to the conditions for testing differential susceptibility, and future directions are outlined.

(Online publication July 11 2012)


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Jay Belsky, Human and Community Development, University of California, Davis, One Shields Avenue, Hart Hall, Davis, CA 95616; E-mail:


This research is part of the Tracking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey (TRAILS). Participating centers of TRAILS include various departments of the University Medical Center and University of Groningen, the Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam, the University of Utrecht, the Radboud Medical Center Nijmegen, and the Parnassia Bavo group, all in The Netherlands. TRAILS has been financially supported by various grants from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research NWO (Medical Research Council Program Grant GB-MW 940-38-011; ZonMW Brainpower Grant 100-001-004; ZonMw Risk Behavior and Dependence Grants 60-60600-98-018 and 60-60600-97-118; ZonMw Culture and Health Grant 261-98-710; Social Sciences Council medium-sized Investment Grants GB-MaGW 480-01-006 and GB-MaGW 480-07-001; Social Sciences Council Project Grants GB-MaGW 457-03-018, GB-MaGW 452-04-314, and GB-MaGW 452-06-004; NWO large-sized Investment Grant 175.010.2003.005; NWO Longitudinal Survey and Panel Funding 481-08-013); the Sophia Foundation for Medical Research (Projects 301 and 393); the Dutch Ministry of Justice (WODC); the European Science Foundation (EuroSTRESS Project FP-006); and the participating universities. We are grateful to all of the adolescents, their parents, and their teachers who participated in this research and to everyone who worked on this project and made it possible.