Differential susceptibility theory proposes that a subset of individuals exist who display enhanced susceptibility to both negative (risk-promoting) and positive (development-enhancing) environments. This experiment represents the first attempt to directly test this assumption by exposing children in the experimental group to both negative and positive feedback using puppet role-plays. It thereby serves as an empirical test as well as a methodological primer for testing differential susceptibility. Dutch children (N = 190, 45.3% girls) between the ages of 4 and 6 years participated. We examined whether negative and positive feedback would differentially affect changes in positive and negative affect, in prosocial and antisocial intentions and behavior, depending on children's negative emotionality. Results show that on hearing negative feedback, children in the experimental group increased in negative affect and decreased in positive affect more strongly than children in the control group. On hearing positive feedback, children in the experimental group tended to increase in positive affect and decrease in prosocial behavior. However, changes in response to negative or positive feedback did not depend on children's negative emotionality. Moreover, using reliable change scores, we found support for a subset of “vulnerable” children but not for a subset of “susceptible” children. The findings offer suggestions to guide future differential susceptibility experiments.
- Differential susceptibility
- Person-by-environment interactions
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology