Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 24
  • Print publication year: 1990
  • Online publication date: August 2010

4 - Beyond diathesis: toward an understanding of high-risk environments


During the formative years of the high-risk-for-schizophrenia movement, researchers devoted most of their attention to isolating early patterns of maladjustment and deviance among high-risk offspring. Their primary research agenda was to develop an understanding of those deficits, with an eye toward tracing them to later functioning and ultimately to diagnostic status. In more recent years there has been increased interest in and enthusiasm for examining protective factors: the environmental resources available to and the adaptive strengths characteristic of those high-risk children who do not show early signs of deviance. Whether this newer interest reflects a broadening of focus consistent with the seminal writings of Garmezy (1971, 1976, 1981, 1983) and others, or more accurately represents a displacement or misplacement of interest in factors responsible for early deviance, is a question with important implications for the future directions of high-risk research.

At the heart of this question is unsettling evidence throughout the high-risk literature of blurred distinctions between the concepts of risk, vulnerability, and maladjustment, and between risk reducers and protective factors. It is no less true in high-risk research than in other domains of inquiry that important answers often are obscured by the ways we frame our questions. And as we hope to demonstrate in this chapter, there is much to be gained through maintaining conceptual clarity in our thinking about and usage of these terms.

We begin by reviewing briefly the origins and current status of research concerning the etiology of schizophrenia and related disorders among the offspring of schizophrenic parents. Our goal is to highlight some of the methodological and conceptual issues that have shaped the nature and direction of this research.