Developmental and Temperamental
Characteristics of Infants at Risk
for Serious Psychopathology
Eugene J. D'Angelo, Ph.D.
Lisa A. Krock, Ed.D.
Linda D. O'Neill, M.A., M.P.H.
M. Patricia Boyle, Ph.D.
One of the current theoretical conceptualizations of schizophrenia is the "vulnerability model," which emphasizes the mutual involvement of genetic factors, organismic integrity, and environmental contingencies in the development of the psychosis (Zubin and Spring, 1977). According to this model, these interactions result in a global level of susceptibility which may eventuate in a schizophrenic episode when the experienced stress increases beyond a personal threshold (Zubin and Steinhauer, 1981). Hence, vulnerability is not considered a stable, unalterable trait, inasmuch as moderating variables may hypothetically serve to increase the threshold for a psychotic episode and/or potentiate the more noxious effects of an inborn factor.
While Erlenmeyer-Kimling (1978) and Zubin and Steinhauer (1981) have elaborated on the complexities of this model, a number of investigators (Fish, 1959, 1977; Mednick et al., 1971) have suggested that elements of vulnerability may be evident as early as infancy. As Anna Freud (1978) observed, what is vulnerable is less the child than the developmental process itself. For example, Fraiberg (1978) suggested that even with minimal genetic predisposition, severe disturbances in human attachment and the sense of self and object world render the infant susceptible to developing an unstable ego organization, a disturbance that could eventuate in psychosis. Fish (1963) identified the importance of an infant's ability to maintain a quiet and alert state, postural and motoric control, and focused attention as influencing the manner in which the perception of self and world are derived. Neuromaturational delays, for example, disturbances in arousal and motoric functioning, may render the infant susceptible to environmental influences that might lead to the development of the psychosis.
The present paper is an interim report from a longitudinal investigation of infants considered to be at risk for the subsequent development of schizophrenia because they are the offspring of psychotic mothers.