Developmental psychopathology is finally gaining recognition as a viable interdisciplinary perspective, providing an impetus for sustained studies of risk and protective factors in childhood (Cicchetti, 1984; Masten & Braswell, in press; Sroufe & Rutter, 1984). It has taken the field over a decade to catch up with Norman Garmezy and a few other pioneering psychopathologists who recognized the need for a developmental perspective and the theoretical and clinical significance of studying adaptation in children vulnerable to psychopathology (Garmezy, 1970, 1973, 1974a,b).
Over the past two decades at the University of Minnesota, Garmezy has translated his interest in positive responses to high-risk conditions into a research program that has encompassed a variety of studies under the rubric of “Project Competence.” These studies of adaptation have focused on normative samples as well as high-risk samples, including children at risk for maladaptation because of such factors as mental illness in a parent (see chapter 20, this volume), physical disability (Raison, 1982; Silverstein, 1982), and lifethreatening birth defects (see chapter 6, this volume). Common to these diverse studies has been the focus on competence, correcting psychologists’ traditional neglect of successful adaptation under adverse conditions (Garmezy, 1981; Garmezy & Devine, 1984; Garmezy & Tellegen, 1984).
The Project Competence studies of children were a natural outgrowth of Garmezy's earlier studies of schizophrenic adults that led him to an interest in premorbid competence (Garmezy & Rodnick, 1959; see chapter 22, this volume) and then to the study of adaptation in children at risk for schizophrenia (Garmezy, 1970, 1971). Garmezy participated in the consortium of risk researchers who undertook the first generation of high-risk studies in psychopathology, following the early lead of Fish, Mednick, and Schulsinger to study offspring of schizophrenic parents (Garmezy, 1974c,d).