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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