Diathesis–stress model  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The diathesis–stress model is a psychological theory put forth in its modern form by Charles Nemeroff that explains behavior as a result of both biological and genetic factors ("nature"), and life experiences ("nurture").

This model thus assumes that a disposition towards a certain disorder may result from a combination of one's genetics and early learning. The term "diathesis" is used to refer to a genetic predisposition toward an abnormal or diseased condition. According to the model, this predisposition, in combination with certain kinds of environmental stress, results in abnormal behavior.

This theory is often applied to mental disorders, like schizophrenia, as produced by the interaction of a vulnerable hereditary predisposition with precipitating events in the environment. It was originally introduced as a means to explain some of the causes of schizophrenia.



In the diathesis–stress model, a biological or genetic vulnerability or predisposition (diathesis) interacts with the environment and life events (stressors) to trigger behaviors or psychological disorders. The greater the underlying vulnerability, the less stress is needed to trigger the behavior or disorder. Conversely, where there is a smaller genetic contribution, greater life stress is required to produce the particular result. Even so, someone with a diathesis toward a disorder will not necessarily develop the disorder. Both the diathesis and the stress are required for this to happen.

The stress scale was created by Holmes and Rahe. In 1967 they conducted a study into life events as stressors, in which they assigned an arbitrary rating of 50 to marriage and asked participants to rate other life events such as imprisonment, change in financial state, and death of a spouse as needing more or less re-adjustment. Ratings were based on the participants' own experiences or the perception of how others had adjusted to given life events.

Holmes and Rahe found that the more life events were experienced, the more stress was experienced and that this could be linked to a person becoming ill. Their study of life events implies Western views of success, materialism, and conformism; it would not be suitable to generalize across many different cultures.


The diathesis–stress model has been reformulated in the last 20 years as the stress–vulnerability–protective factors model, particularly by Charles Nemeroff and his colleagues in the field of early life stress effects on mood disorders.


This model has had profound benefits for people with severe and persistent mental illnesses. It has stimulated research on the common stressors that people with disorders such as schizophrenia experience. More importantly, it has stimulated research and treatment on how to mitigate this stress, and therefore reduce the expression of the diathesis, by developing protective factors, which include rigorous and nuanced psychopharmacology, skill building (especially problem solving and basic communication skills), and the development of support systems for individuals with these illnesses.

Even more importantly, the stress–vulnerability–protective factors model has allowed mental health workers, family members, and clients to create a sophisticated personal profile of what happens when the person is doing poorly (the diathesis), what hurts (the stressors), and what helps (the protective factors). This has resulted in more humane, effective, efficient, and empowering treatment interventions.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Diathesis–stress model" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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