Many phenotypes respond physiologically or developmentally to continuously distributed environmental variables such as temperature and nutritional quality. Information about phenotypic plasticity can be used to improve the efficiency of artificial selection. Here we show that the quantitative genetic theory for ‘infinite-dimensional’ traits such as reaction norms provides a natural framework to accomplish this goal. It is expected to improve selection responses by making more efficient use of information about environmental effects than do conventional methods. The approach is illustrated by deriving an index for mass selection of a phenotypically plastic trait. We suggest that the same approach could be extended directly to more general and efficient breeding schemes, such as those based on general best linear unbiased prediction. Methods for estimating genetic covariance functions are reviewed.