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Child Dev. 2000 Nov-Dec;71(6):1687-708.

Child development and evolutionary psychology.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton 33431, USA.


Evolutionary developmental psychology involves the expression of evolved, epigenetic programs, as described by the developmental systems approach, over the course of ontogeny. There have been different selection pressures on organisms at different times in ontogeny, and some characteristics of infants and children were selected in evolution to serve an adaptive function at that time in their life history rather than to prepare individuals for later adulthood. Examples of such adaptive functions of immaturity are provided from infancy, play, and cognitive development. Most evolved psychological mechanisms are proposed to be domain specific in nature and have been identified for various aspects of children's cognitive and social development, most notably for the acquisition of language and for theory of mind. Differences in the quality and quantity of parental investment affect children's development and influence their subsequent reproductive and childcare strategies. Some sex differences observed in childhood, particularly as expressed during play, are seen as antecedents and preparations for adult sex differences. Because evolved mechanisms were adaptive to ancestral environments, they are not always adaptive for contemporary people, and this mismatch of evolved mechanisms with modern environments is seen in children's maladjustment to some aspects of formal schooling. We argue that an evolutionary perspective can be valuable for developing a better understanding of human ontogeny in contemporary society and that a developmental perspective is important for a better understanding of evolutionary psychology.

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