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Journal Article

What is the expected human childhood? Insights from evolutionary anthropology


Frankenhuis,  Willem E.
Criminology, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law, Max Planck Society;

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Frankenhuis, W. E., & Dorsa, A. (2021). What is the expected human childhood? Insights from evolutionary anthropology. Development and Psychopathology. doi:10.1017/S0954579421001401.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-A2E9-9
In psychological research, there are often assumptions about the conditions that children expect to encounter during their development. These assumptions shape prevailing ideas about the experiences that children are capable of adjusting to, and whether their responses are viewed as impairments or adaptations. Specifically, the expected childhood is often depicted as nurturing and safe, and characterized by high levels of caregiver investment. Here, we synthesize evidence from history, anthropology, and primatology to challenge this view. We integrate the findings of systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and cross-cultural investigations on three forms of threat (infanticide, violent conflict, and predation) and three forms of deprivation (social, cognitive, and nutritional) that children have faced throughout human evolution. Our results show that mean levels of threat and deprivation were higher than is typical in industrialized societies, and that our species has experienced much variation in the levels of
these adversities across space and time. These conditions likely favored a high degree of phenotypic plasticity, or the ability to tailor development to different conditions. This body of evidence has implications for recognizing developmental adaptations to adversity, for cultural variation in responses to adverse experiences, and for definitions of adversity and deprivation as deviation.
from the expected human childhood.