New Theory Suggests that Overly Sensitive Children Have Over-sized Potential: Orchid Children

Audrey ThumbnailAn article in the December issue of the Atlantic reports on a new theory that genes that predispose people to anxiety, depression, and behavioural problems, also seem to endow people with enormous potential. According to this “orchid hypothesis”:

“[B]ad genes can create dysfunction in unfavorable contexts—but they can also enhance function in favorable contexts. The genetic sensitivities to negative experience … are just the downside of a bigger phenomenon: a heightened genetic sensitivity to all experience.”

According to the theory, most children are “dandelions” who will thrive just about anywhere; but some children are “orchids” who will “wilt if ignored or maltreated but bloom spectacularly with greenhouse care.”

A growing body of research supports this proposition, showing that “orchid” children actually surpass their “dandelion” counterparts when exposed to positive interventions.  For example, one study showed that children with a genetic predisposition to ADHD improved their behaviour significantly more in response to positive intervention than did their peers without the predisposition.

The orchid hypothesis provides a powerful explanation for an evolutionary puzzle:

“If variants of certain genes create mainly dysfunction and trouble, how have they survived natural selection? … [A]bout a quarter of all human beings carry the best-documented gene variant for depression, while more than a fifth carry the variant that … is associated with externalizing, antisocial, and violent behaviors, as well as ADHD, anxiety, and depression.”

According to the orchid hypothesis, “orchid” children perform an invaluable evolutionary function:

“The many dandelions in a population provide an underlying stability. The less-numerous orchids, meanwhile, may falter in some environments but can excel in those that suit them. … Together, the steady dandelions and the mercurial orchids offer an adaptive flexibility that neither can provide alone. Together, they open a path to otherwise unreachable individual and collective achievements.”

Orchids raised in the right environment accelerate evolutionary progress and adaptation.

The takeaway? Parenting is crucial.

“With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail — but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.”

H/T to @switchedonmom.

Other posts about the Orchid Hypothesis:

Following the Orchid Children Discussion,
More on Orchid Children,
New Research Supports Orchid Children Hypothesis,
How Connected Parenting Can Help Orchid Children,
The Orchid Children Hypothesis: More Research

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  • More on Orchid and Dandelion Children | Connected Parenting's Comment More on Orchid and Dandelion Children | Connected Parenting Posted On: Dec 8th, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    […] couple of weeks ago, we noted an article in The Atlantic that reported on a new theory of behavioral genetics. According to the theory, some children are like dandelions, able to thrive anywhere. Others are […]

  • Following the Orchid and Dandelion Discussion | Connected Parenting's Comment Following the Orchid and Dandelion Discussion | Connected Parenting Posted On: Dec 26th, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    […] the Atlantic about orchid children and dandelion children has sparked a huge amount of interest. We summarized the article and later followed up with a link to an interview with Dobbs on WNYC radio. We also mentioned that […]

  • New Research Supports Orchid Hypothesis | Connected Parenting's Comment New Research Supports Orchid Hypothesis | Connected Parenting Posted On: Feb 5th, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    […] Following the Orchid and Dandelion Discussion, More on Orchid and Dandelion Children, New Theory Suggests that Overly Sensitive Children Have Over-sized Potential […]

  • How Connected Parenting Can Help Your Orchid Child | Connected Parenting's Comment How Connected Parenting Can Help Your Orchid Child | Connected Parenting Posted On: Feb 23rd, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    […] New Theory Suggests that Overly Sensitive Children Have Over-sized Potential, More on Orchid and Dandelion Children, Following the Orchid and Dandelion Discussion, New Research Supports Orchid Hypothesis […]

  • New Research Supports Orchid Hypothesis – connectedparenting.com's Comment New Research Supports Orchid Hypothesis - connectedparenting.com Posted On: Mar 7th, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    […] New Theory Suggests that Overly Sensitive Children Have Over-sized Potential, More on Orchid and Dandelion Children, Following the Orchid and Dandelion Discussion Published in Audrey Grushcow, News, News, Events & Announcements, Orchid & Dandelion Children Tags: ADHD, Anxiety, dandelion children, David Dobbs, depression, Globe & Mail, hyperactivity, journal Child Development, Orchid Children, orchid hypothesis, reactive to stress, sensitive children, stress at home, The Atlantic Link to this article: […]

  • The Orchid Children Hypothesis: More Research | Connected Parenting's Comment The Orchid Children Hypothesis: More Research | Connected Parenting Posted On: Apr 4th, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    […] intriguing study by Stony Brook University researchers may help explain orchid children, showing that people who are “highly sensitive” have “underlying difference[s] […]

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