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Am J Public Health. 2013 Oct;103 Suppl 1:S102-10. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301382. Epub 2013 Aug 8.

Genetic differential sensitivity to social environments: implications for research.

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Colter Mitchell is with the Survey Research Center and Population Studies Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. Sara McLanahan is with the Department of Sociology and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ. Jeanne Brooks-Gunn is with the Teachers College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, NY. Irwin Garfinkel is with the School of Social Work, Columbia University. John Hobcraft is with the Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York, York, UK. Daniel Notterman is with the Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University and Penn State College of Medicine, Pennsylvania State University, Hershey.


Researchers have proposed a genetic differential sensitivity to social environmental (GDSE) model positing that individuals with certain genetic makeups are more sensitive to favorable and unfavorable environmental influences than those without these genetic makeups. We discuss several issues facing researchers who want to use GDSE to examine health: (1) the need for greater theorizing about the social environment to properly understand the size and direction of environmental influences; (2) the potential for combining multiple genetic markers to measure an individual's genetic sensitivity to environmental influence; (3) how this model and exogenous shocks deal with gene-environment correlations; (4) implications of this model for public health and prevention; and (5) how life course and developmental theories may be used to inform GDSE research.

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