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ABSTRACT: The purpose of the study was to examine the relationship between self-reported stress levels among new mothers in São Paulo, Brazil and two biomarkers of stressful experience, oxytocin (OT) and Epstein-Barr Virus antibody level (EBV-ab), with planned pregnancy hypothesized as a moderator of biological response to stressful conditions. Sixty-three first-time mothers between the ages of 15 and 45 were recruited from neighborhoods in São Paulo, Brazil. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected longitudinally, bi-weekly between two and 12 weeks postpartum. OT level was assessed from breast milk samples and EBV-ab from blood spot samples. An Interpersonal Satisfaction scale was developed, validated, and administered, along with the Cohen perceived stress scale (PSS). In-depth interview data revealed unplanned pregnancy to be a significant stressor in the lives of first-time mothers. In linear regression, OT level was negatively associated with interpersonal satisfaction score (P = 0.022) and positively associated with PSS score (P = 0.007). When splitting the sample by planned status of the pregnancy, women with an unplanned pregnancy showed a strengthened positive association between OT level and PSS (P = 0.001; Adj R(2) = 0.44) and negative association with interpersonal satisfaction (P = 0.017; Adj R(2) = 0.15), while no associations existed for women with a planned pregnancy. EBV-ab level was not correlated or associated with stress/satisfaction measures. OT is an effective biomarker in the measurement of stress in the body, and additionally reflects differential experiences with difficult interpersonal circumstances, such as unplanned pregnancy. By contrast, EBV-ab failed to reflect differences in self-reported stress levels between mothers. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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ABSTRACT: Niche construction refers to the activities of organisms that bring about changes in their environments, many of which are evolutionarily and ecologically consequential. Advocates of niche construction theory (NCT) believe that standard evolutionary theory fails to recognize the full importance of niche construction, and consequently propose a novel view of evolution, in which niche construction and its legacy over time (ecological inheritance) are described as evolutionary processes, equivalent in importance to natural selection. Here, we subject NCT to critical evaluation, in the form of a collaboration between one prominent advocate of NCT, and a team of skeptics. We discuss whether niche construction is an evolutionary process, whether NCT obscures or clarifies how natural selection leads to organismal adaptation, and whether niche construction and natural selection are of equivalent explanatory importance. We also consider whether the literature that promotes NCT overstates the significance of niche construction, whether it is internally coherent, and whether it accurately portrays standard evolutionary theory. Our disagreements reflect a wider dispute within evolutionary theory over whether the neo-Darwinian synthesis is in need of reformulation, as well as different usages of some key terms (e.g. evolutionary process). This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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