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Dev Psychol. 2012 May;48(3):628-42. doi: 10.1037/a0025629. Epub 2011 Oct 3.

When do adaptive developmental mechanisms yield maladaptive outcomes?

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Center for Behavior, Evolution, and Culture, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


This article discusses 3 ways in which adaptive developmental mechanisms may produce maladaptive outcomes. First, natural selection may favor risky strategies that enhance fitness on average but which have detrimental consequences for a subset of individuals. Second, mismatch may result when organisms experience environmental change during ontogeny, for instance, because they move from one environment to another. Third, organisms may learn about their environment in order to develop an appropriate phenotype; when cues indicate the environmental state probabilistically, as opposed to deterministically, sampling processes may produce mismatch. For each source of maladaptation, we present a selection of the relevant empirical research and illustrate how models from evolutionary biology can be used to make predictions about maladaptation. We also discuss what data can be collected to test these models in humans. Our goal is to show that evolutionary approaches not only yield insights into adaptive outcomes but can also illuminate the conditions leading to maladaptation. This perspective provides additional nuance to the dialectic between the developmental psychopathology model and evolutionary developmental psychology.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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