Bruce J Ellis

Bruce J Ellis
University of Utah | UOU · Psychology and Anthropology

Ph.D.

About

111
Publications
164,004
Reads
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14,060
Citations
Introduction
My research seeks to leverage knowledge from both evolutionary biology and developmental science to better understand developmental adaptations to stress, especially in relation to the programming of life history strategies. My collaborators and I focus on how our biobehavioral systems (biological stress responses, timing of puberty, risky adolescent behavior and cognition, and related health outcomes) respond to specific features of family environments and the larger ecological context.
Additional affiliations
June 2016 - present
University of Utah
Position
  • Professor (Full)
June 2004 - June 2016
The University of Arizona
Position
  • Professor and Endowed Chair
August 1999 - June 2004
University of Canterbury
Position
  • Lecturer
Education
January 1989 - August 1995
University of Michigan
Field of study
  • Psychology (Personality and Evolutionary)
August 1982 - June 1987

Publications

Publications (111)
Article
Full-text available
Adversity‐exposed youth tend to score lower on cognitive tests. However, the hidden talents approach proposes some abilities are enhanced by adversity, especially under ecologically relevant conditions. Two versions of an attention‐shifting and working memory updating task—one abstract, one ecological—were administered to 618 youth (Mage = 13.62, S...
Article
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Two extant frameworks – the harshness-unpredictability model and the threat-deprivation model – attempt to explain which dimensions of adversity have distinct influences on development. These models address, respectively, why, based on a history of natural selection, development operates the way it does across a range of environmental contexts, and...
Article
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Differential susceptibility theory stipulates that individuals vary in their susceptibility to environmental effects, often implying that the same individuals differ in the same way in their susceptibility to different environmental exposures. The latter point is addressed herein by evaluating the extent to which early-life harshness and unpredicta...
Article
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We review the three prevailing approaches—specificity, cumulative risk, and dimensional models—to conceptualizing the developmental consequences of early-life adversity and address fundamental problems with the characterization of these frameworks in a recent Perspectives on Psychological Science piece by Smith and Pollak. We respond to concerns ra...
Article
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Despite evidence supporting a role for oxytocin (OT) in regulating social behavior, surprisingly little is known about how this neuropeptide is calibrated during development. We systematically reviewed empirical studies in humans (k = 86 publications reporting on 66 independent samples; N = 7319) that examined associations between early-life stress...
Preprint
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We review the three prevailing approaches—specificity, cumulative risk, and dimensional models— to conceptualizing the developmental consequences of early-life adversity and address fundamental problems with the characterization of these frameworks in a recent Perspectives on Psychological Science piece by Smith and Pollak (2020). We respond to con...
Article
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This research: (1) implements a genetically informed design to examine the effects of fathers’ presence–absence and quality of behavior during childhood/adolescence on daughters’ frequency of substance use during adolescence; and (2) tests substance use frequency as mediating the relation between paternal behavior and daughters’ sexual risk taking....
Article
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Over the past decade, there is increasing interest in the ways in which environmental unpredictability shapes human life history development. However, progress is hindered by two theoretical ambiguities. The first is that conceptual definitions of environmental unpredictability are not precise enough to be able to express them in statistical terms....
Article
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External predictive adaptive response (PAR) models assume that developmental exposures to stress carry predictive information about the future state of the environment, and that development of a faster life history (LH) strategy in this context functions to match the individual to this expected harsh state. More recently internal PAR models have pr...
Article
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Although early-life adversity can undermine healthy development, children growing up in harsh environments may develop intact, or even enhanced , skills for solving problems in high-adversity contexts (i.e., “hidden talents”). Here we situate the hidden talents model within a larger interdisciplinary framework. Summarizing theory and research on hi...
Article
A growing body of research indicates that one's early life experiences may play an important role in regulating patterns of energy intake in adulthood. In particular, adults who grew up under conditions characterized by low socioeconomic status (SES) tend to eat in the absence of hunger (EAH), a pattern that is not generally observed among higher-S...
Article
It is well established that people living in adverse conditions tend to score lower on a variety of social and cognitive tests. However, recent research shows that people may also develop ‘hidden talents’, that is, mental abilities that are enhanced through adversity. The hidden talents program sets out to document these abilities, their developmen...
Article
NHLBI convened an interdisciplinary panel of experts in childhood adversity, social determinants of health, and cardiovascular disease (CVD) for a collaborative workshop, entitled “Social Determinants of Health: Early Life Adversity as a Contributor to Disparities in Cardiovascular Diseases.” This manuscript reports workshop proceedings addressing...
Article
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We conducted signal detection analyses to test for curvilinear, U-shaped relations between early experiences of adversity and heightened physiological responses to challenge, as proposed by biological sensitivity to context theory. Based on analysis of an ethnically diverse sample of 338 kindergarten children (4–6 years old) and their families, we...
Article
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Guided by paternal investment theory (PIT), the current research examines the effects of fathers on daughters' expectations for men in adulthood, and the role of these expectations in mediating women's short-term (casual or uncommitted) sexual behavior. Using a genetically informed differential sibling-exposure design (N = 223 sister pairs from div...
Article
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Although growing up in stressful conditions can undermine mental abilities, people in harsh environments may develop intact, or even enhanced, social and cognitive abilities for solving problems in high‐adversity contexts (i.e., ‘hidden talents’). We examine whether childhood and current exposure to violence are associated with memory (number of le...
Chapter
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It is now well established that early experiences of adversity play a central role in development of many mental health problems in adulthood. However, the effects are more pronounced and detrimental for some individuals compared to others. Informed by the biological sensitivity to context model, an evolutionary-developmental model of individual di...
Article
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The assumption that early stress leads to dysregulation and impairment is widespread in developmental science and informs prevailing models (e.g., “toxic stress”). An alternative evolutionary-developmental approach, which complements the standard emphasis on dysregulation, proposes that early stress may prompt the development of costly but adaptive...
Article
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This study used a combination of microlevel observation data and longitudinal questionnaire data to study the relationship between differential reactivity and differential susceptibility, guided by three questions: (a) Does a subset of children exist that is both more likely to respond with increasingly negative emotions to increasingly negative em...
Article
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Decades of fetal programming research indicates that we may be able to map the origins of many physical, psychological, and medical variations and morbidities before the birth of the child. While great strides have been made in identifying associations between prenatal insults, such as undernutrition or psychosocial stress, and negative development...
Chapter
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Despite the well-established links between adversity and various social and health outcomes, there is also a counterpoint to these links: the large resilience literature. Some individuals thrive, or at least beat the odds, despite their high-risk backgrounds. This chapter explores the theory, practice, and implications of the adaptation-based appro...
Article
Pepper & Nettle's paper exemplifies an emerging resistance against an exclusive focus on deficits in people who come from harsh environments. We extend their model by arguing for a perspective that includes not only contextually appropriate responses but also strengths – that is, enhanced mental skills and abilities. Such a well-rounded approach ca...
Article
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In this longitudinal multiinformant study negative emotionality and sensory processing sensitivity were compared as susceptibility markers among kindergartners. Participating children (N = 264, 52.9% boys) were Dutch kindergartners (Mage = 4.77, SD = 0.60), followed across three waves, spaced seven months apart. Results show that associations betwe...
Article
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Previous research demonstrates reliable associations between low paternal investment and daughters’ precocious and risky sexual behavior. However, little is known about the psychological changes that occur in response to paternal disengagement that encourage these patterns. Here, we aim to redress this empirical gap by testing the effects of patern...
Article
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How does repeated or chronic childhood adversity shape social and cognitive abilities? According to the prevailing deficit model, children from high-stress backgrounds are at risk for impairments in learning and behavior, and the intervention goal is to prevent, reduce, or repair the damage. Missing from this deficit approach is an attempt to lever...
Article
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Girls who receive higher quality fathering engage in less risky sexual behavior (RSB) than their peers. Previous research identifies higher levels of parental monitoring/knowledge and reduced affiliation with deviant peers as potential mediators of this observed fathering effect. Although paternal investment theory posits a causal effect of fathers...
Article
This review focuses on the impact of parental behavior on child development, as interpreted from an evolutionary-developmental perspective. We employ psychosocial acceleration theory to reinterpret the effects of variation in parental investment and involvement on child development, arguing that these effects have been structured by natural selecti...
Chapter
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Evolution is the process in which traits such as physiological stress response systems (SRSs) are shaped by natural selection. A full understanding of any trait requires knowing its evolutionary history, how it has given a selective advantage, and the trade-offs and costs involved. Stress-related mechanisms emerged early in the history of life. Lik...
Article
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The adaptive calibration model (ACM) is a theory of developmental programing focusing on calibration of stress response systems and associated life history strategies to local environmental conditions. In this article, we tested some key predictions of the ACM in a longitudinal study of Dutch adolescent males (11-16 years old; N = 351). Measures of...
Article
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Epidemiologists and medical researchers often employ an allostatic load model that focuses on environmental and lifestyle factors, together with biological vulnerabilities, to explain the deterioration of human physiological systems and chronic degenerative disease. Although this perspective has informed medicine and public health, it is agnostic t...
Chapter
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In this chapter we situate developmental psychopathology in an evolutionary perspective and demonstrate how the discipline can benefit by embracing modern biological theory. We begin by presenting the integrative approach of evolutionary-developmental psychology and exploring the interplay between adaptation and maladaptation in the origin of disor...
Article
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Bullying is a problem that affects adolescents worldwide. Efforts to prevent bullying have been moderately successful at best, or iatrogenic at worst. We offer an explanation for this limited success by employing an evolutionary-psychological perspective to analyze antibullying interventions. We argue that bullying is a goal-directed behavior that...
Chapter
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We explore the field of evolutionary-developmental psychology, the application of the basic principles of evolution to explain contemporary human development. Human infants are ?prepared? by evolution to process some information more readily than others, and natural selection has shaped adaptations of infancy and childhood, adapting young organisms...
Chapter
Drawing on the power of evolutionary theory to explain behavior across cultures and species, particularly in the domains of sex and reproduction, evolutionary psychology has now emerged as a major perspective in the study of intimate relationships. This chapter applies this perspective to the study of love, commitment, and mate retention. It presen...
Article
Background Children and parents often rely on the support provided by non-parental adults such as extended family members. Expanding conceptualizations of social support beyond traditional nuclear family paradigms to include non-parental adults may be particularly relevant to identifying family strengths among economically disadvantaged and Latino...
Article
Guided by life history theory, the present study (a) developed and provided preliminary validation data for a self-report measure of a childhood unpredictability schema (i.e., a worldview where children perceive other people and future outcomes as unreliable and unpredictable) and (b) tested for the effects of maternal life history strategy and its...
Article
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It has long been accepted that modern reproductive patterns are likely contributors to breast cancer susceptibility because of their influence on hormones such as estrogen and the importance of these hormones in breast cancer. We conducted a meta-analysis to assess whether this ‘evolutionary mismatch hypothesis’ can explain susceptibility to both e...
Article
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The present research examined whether children’s ability to impute false-belief is overridden or impaired by content that activates an early-developing, prepotent motivational system: predator-avoidance. In 3 studies, children aged 3 to 8 years completed variants of a false-belief test, including analogous predator-avoidance and playmate-avoidances...
Article
Eighty-one participants were recruited to test the sensitivity of the mating sociometer to mate-value feedback in the context of ongoing intimate relationships. Experiences of social rejection/acceptance by attractive opposite-sex confederates were manipulated. The effects of this manipulation on self-esteem, relationship satisfaction and commitmen...
Chapter
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In this chapter we present an evolutionary–developmental framework for individual differences in stress responsivity, the Adaptive Calibration Model (ACM). We argue that the core propositions of the ACM provide a context for the integrative biological analysis of the stress response system, exemplified by Tinbergen’s “four questions” of mechanism,...
Article
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How do exposures to stress affect biobehavioral development and, through it, psychiatric and biomedical disorder? In the health sciences, the allostatic load model provides a widely accepted answer to this question: stress responses, while essential for survival, have negative long-term effects that promote illness. Thus, the benefits of mounting r...
Article
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The biological sensitivity to context hypothesis posits that high physiological reactivity (i.e., increases in arousal from baseline) constitutes heightened sensitivity to environmental influences, for better or worse. To test this hypothesis, we examined the interactive effects of family cohesion and heart rate reactivity to a public speaking task...
Article
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This article is part of a Special Issue "Puberty and Adolescence". Life history theory provides an overarching framework for explaining the development of individual differences in reproductive strategies and highlights the role of familial and ecological conditions in regulating pubertal timing. Parental investment and sexual selection models affo...
Article
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Evolutionary approaches to behavior have increasingly captured the attention and imagination of academics and laypeople alike. One part of this trend has been the increasing influence of evolutionary theory in developmental science. The articles in this special section of Developmental Psychology attempt to demonstrate why an evolutionary analysis...
Article
Utilizing an evolutionary framework can elucidate the causes of variation in parental effort and guide measurement of relevant parenting constructs. The current article presents an evolutionary analysis of the determinants of parental effort and suggests that evolutionarily informed measures are needed to test evolutionary hypotheses. Towards this...
Article
Full-text available
Girls receiving lower quality paternal investment tend to engage in more risky sexual behavior (RSB) than peers. Whereas paternal investment theory posits that this effect is causal, it could arise from environmental or genetic confounds. To distinguish between these competing explanations, the current authors employed a genetically and environment...
Article
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The current study tested sex-specific pathways to early puberty, sexual debut, and sexual risk taking, as specified by an integrated evolutionary-developmental model of adolescent sexual development and behavior. In a prospective study of 238 adolescents (n = 129 girls and n = 109 boys) followed from approximately 12-18 years of age, we tested for...
Chapter
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The field of evolutionary developmental psychology (EDP) seeks to integrate the basic tenets of evolutionary psychology (EP) and developmental systems theory. EDP can potentially broaden the horizons of mainstream EP by combining the principles of Darwinian evolution by natural selection with the study of human development, focusing on the epigenet...
Article
Full-text available
The adaptive calibration model (ACM) is an evolutionary-developmental theory of individual differences in stress responsivity. In this article, we tested some key predictions of the ACM in a middle childhood sample (N = 256). Measures of autonomic nervous system activity across the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches validated the 4-pattern ta...
Article
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This article proposes an evolutionary model of risky behavior in adolescence and contrasts it with the prevailing developmental psychopathology model. The evolutionary model contends that understanding the evolutionary functions of adolescence is critical to explaining why adolescents engage in risky behavior and that successful intervention depend...
Article
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Drawing on life history theory, Ellis and associates' (2009) recent across- and within-species analysis of ecological effects on reproductive development highlighted two fundamental dimensions of environmental variation and influence: harshness and unpredictability. To evaluate the unique contributions of these factors, the authors of present artic...
Article
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This paper presents the Adaptive Calibration Model (ACM), an evolutionary-developmental theory of individual differences in the functioning of the stress response system. The stress response system has three main biological functions: (1) to coordinate the organism's allostatic response to physical and psychosocial challenges; (2) to encode and fil...
Article
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Decades of research demonstrate that conflict shapes and permeates a broad range of family processes. In the current article, we argue that greater insight, integration of knowledge, and empirical achievement in the study of family conflict can be realized by utilizing a powerful theory from evolutionary biology that is barely known within psycholo...
Article
Numerous studies show associations between father absence and girls' early puberty. However, most research has been retrospective, focused on menarche, and failed to consider body mass index (BMI), ethnicity, and income in the analyses. This study resolves these scientific gaps. This was a prospective study of 444 girls aged 6-8 years and their car...
Article
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Two extant evolutionary models, biological sensitivity to context theory (BSCT) and differential susceptibility theory (DST), converge on the hypothesis that some individuals are more susceptible than others to both negative (risk-promoting) and positive (development-enhancing) environmental conditions. These models contrast with the currently domi...
Article
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Guided by evolutionary-developmental theories of biological sensitivity to context and reproductive development, the current research examined the interactive effects of early family environments and psychobiologic reactivity to stress on the subsequent timing and tempo of puberty. As predicted by the theory, among children displaying heightened bi...
Article
This chapter advances a theory of the development of individual differences in reproductive strategies by drawing on the West-Eberhard model of switch-controlled systems. The first part of the chapter describes the concept of switch-controlled modular systems and their critical role in the development and maintenance of alternative reproductive str...
Article
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Two studies (Ns = 80 and 108) tested hypotheses derived from Kirkpatrick and Ellis's (2001) extension and application of sociometer theory to mating aspirations. Experiences of social rejection-acceptance by attractive opposite-sex confederates were experimentally manipulated, and the impact of these manipulations on self-esteem, mating aspirations...
Article
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Parent–offspring conflict theory (POCT) has been underutilized in studies of human family dynamics. An implication of POCT is that the presence of siblings will increase conflict in biological parent–child dyads, and that half siblings will increase that conflict more than full siblings. Evidence consistent with this prediction was found in a longi...