Findings from Studies of Risk and Protective Factors

Implications for the Design and Evaluation of Prevention Programs

Risk and protective factors influence each other over time

  • Risk and protective factors are dynamically related to each other over time. They may influence the occurrence of later risk and protective factors

  • Protective factors may have additive effects, moderation effects, or mediation effects

  • Risk and protective factors at one level of analysis affect those at another level of analysis

  • Evaluation of preventive trials can inform theory concerning the effects of risk and protective factors

  • Prevention programs can have effects across levels of analysis. For example, risk at the biological, individual, or family level can be modified by interventions at different levels, including social policy interventions

  • Evaluation of prevention programs should test for mediating and moderating effects

  • Prevention programs can have promotion effects to strengthen positive outcomes, and promotion programs can have preventive effects to decrease problem outcomes

  • Prevention programs can impact chains of effects of risk and protective factors, leading to long-term effects across developmental periods

Risk and Protective Factors Can Be Found in Multiple Contexts

One of the earliest and most replicated findings from the empirical literature is that risk and protective factors are found at multiple levels of the social ecology, or the relationship between humans and their environments, from biological and psychological characteristics of the individual to the family and the community (Rutter, 1987; Werner and Smith, 1982, 1992; Luthar, 2003; Crews, Bender, et al., 2007). For example, a synthesis of 18 meta-analytic reviews of risk and protective factors for children found that the strongest risk factors for internalizing and externalizing problems include comorbid internalizing or externalizing problems, family environment stress (e.g., divorce, single parenting), corporal punishment, lack of bonding to school, delinquent peers, and poor peer relations (Crews, Bender, et al., 2007).

One implication of the multilevel nature of risk and protection is that high-risk groups can be identified on the basis of their individual, family, or community indices of risk. Similarly, preventive interventions can be developed to change risk and protective factors across levels of the social ecology (Maton, Schellenbach, et al., 2004; Sandler, Ayers, et al., 2004). Possible



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement