Willem E. Frankenhuis's research while affiliated with Radboud University and other places

Publications (76)

Preprint
In the wake of the replication crisis, there have been calls to increase the clarity and precision of theory in the social sciences. Here, we argue that the effects of these calls may be limited due to systematic and structural factors, and focus our attention on incentives favoring ambiguous theory. Intentionally or not, scientists can exploit the...
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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
Sensitive periods, during which the impact of experience on phenotype is larger than in other periods, exist in all classes of organisms, yet little is known about their evolution. Recent mathematical modelling has explored the conditions in which natural selection favours sensitive periods. These models have assumed that the environment is stable...
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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 i...
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Purpose. The social gradient in adolescent mental health is well established: adolescents’ socioeconomic status (SES) is negatively associated with their mental health. However, de-spite changes in social cognition during adolescence, and theory and evidence that SES, so-cial cognitions, and adolescent mental health are associated, little is known...
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Sensitive periods are widespread in nature, but their evolution is not well understood. Recent mathematical modeling has illuminated the conditions favoring the evolution of sensitive periods early in ontogeny. However, sensitive periods also exist at later stages of ontogeny, such as adolescence. Here, we present a mathematical model that explores...
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Plasticity is studied across the social and biological sciences, but communication between disciplines is hindered by differences in the concepts used to do so. For instance, the distinction between expectant and dependent plasticity is widely used in psychology, but rarely used in evolutionary biology. As a consequence, researchers are less likely...
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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
This special issue focuses on the relationship between life history and learning, especially during human evolution. ‘Life history’ refers to the developmental programme of an organism, including its period of immaturity, reproductive rate and timing, caregiving investment and longevity. Across many species an extended childhood and high caregiving...
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The term ‘life-history theory’ (LHT) is increasingly often invoked in psychology, as a framework for integrating understanding of psychological traits into a broader evolutionary context. Although LHT as presented in psychology papers (LHT-P) is typically described as a straightforward extension of the theoretical principles from evolutionary biolo...
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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...
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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...
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Evolutionary social scientists have argued that impulsive behavior is adaptive in harsh and unpredictable conditions. Is this true? This paper presents a mathematical model that computes the optimal level of impulsivity in environments varying in harshness and unpredictability. We focus on information impulsivity, or choosing to act without gatheri...
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An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.
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We present a consensus-based checklist to improve and document the transparency of research reports in social and behavioural research. An accompanying online application allows users to complete the form and generate a report that they can submit with their manuscript or post to a public repository.
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In the past decade, there has been monumental progress in our understanding of the neurobiological basis of sensitive periods. Little is known, however, about the evolution of sensitive periods. Recent studies have started to address this gap. Biologists have built mathematical models exploring the environmental conditions in which sensitive period...
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On average, psychological variables are often statistically different in people living in poverty compared with people living in affluence. The default academic response to this pattern is often the deficit model: Poverty damages or impairs brain function, which leads to poor performance that only exacerbates the poverty. Deficits and damage are re...
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I argue that emotion research needs formal (mathematical) theory to address two central questions. How does evolution shape mechanisms of emotion development across generations, depending on environmental conditions? How do these mechanisms generate emotions, based on lifetime experience and current context? Formal modeling enables researchers to s...
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It is undesirable when students attend institutions that are less selective than their academic credentials would permit (i.e., undermatching) because of the long-term consequences for their job opportunities and wages, in particular for students from low-socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds. Undermatching may also affect students’ satisfaction during c...
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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...
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The term 'life-history theory' is a familiar label in several disciplines. Life-history theory has its roots in evolutionary models of the fitness consequences of allocating energy to reproduction, growth and self-maintenance across the life course. Increasingly, the term is also used in the conceptual framing of psychological and social-science st...
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There is enduring debate over the question of which early-life effects are adaptive and which ones are not. Mathematical modelling shows that early-life effects can be adaptive in environments that have particular statistical properties, such as reliable cues to current conditions and high autocorrelation of environmental states. However, few empir...
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Life history theory developed as a branch of formal evolutionary theory concerned with the fitness consequences of allocating energy to reproduction, growth and self-maintenance across the life course. More recently, researchers have advocated its relevance to many psychological and social-science questions. As a scientific paradigm expands its ran...
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In the last decades, developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) has emerged as a central framework for studying early‐life effects, that is, the impact of fetal and early postnatal experience on adult functioning. Apace with empirical progress, theoreticians have built mathematical models that provide novel insights for DOHaD. This article...
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We used a Face-in-the-Crowd task to examine whether hostile environments predict enhanced detection of anger, and whether such enhanced cognition occurs for a di erent negative emotion, sadness, as well. We conducted a well-powered, preregistered study in 100 college students and 100 individuals from a community sample with greater exposure to host...
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Some scholars think that Open Science practices constrain researchers in ways that reduce their creativity; arguing, for instance, that preregistration discourages data exploration and so stifles discovery. In this paper, we argue the opposite: Open Science practices are liberating and can foster creativity. Open Science practices are liberating be...
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Variation in life history (LH) traits along the fast-slow continuum (referred to as pace of life, POL) is thought to result from a trade-off between investments in current versus future reproduction. Originally developed for understanding variation in LH strategies at the among-population level, the POL theory has more recently been applied towards...
Preprint
Some scholars think that Open Science practices constrain researchers in ways that reduce their creativity; arguing, for instance, that preregistration discourages data exploration and so stifles discovery. In this paper, we argue the opposite: Open Science practices are liberating and can foster creativity. Open Science practices are liberating be...
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This article focuses on the division of labor between evolution and development in solving sequential, state-dependent decision problems. Currently, behavioral ecologists tend to use dynamic programming methods to study such problems. These methods are successful at predicting animal behavior in a variety of contexts. However, they depend on a dist...
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Bjorklund synthesizes promising research directions in developmental psychology using an evolutionary framework. In general terms, we agree with Bjorklund: Evolutionary theory has the potential to serve as a metatheory for developmental psychology. However, as currently used in psychology, evolutionary theory is far from reaching this potential. In...
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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...
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The present contribution highlights the importance of context while investigating dishonesty in collaborative settings.
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People who grow up under stressful conditions tend to score lower on conventional assessments of cognitive abilities. They might, however, develop enhanced mental skills and abilities for solving problems that are more ecologically relevant to them. We present 2 studies examining whether psychosocial adversity (i.e., exposure to neighborhood violen...
Article
Sensitive periods in development are widespread in nature. Many psychologists and biologists regard sensitive periods as byproducts of developmental processes. Although this view may be correct in some cases, it is unlikely to be the whole story. There is large variation in sensitive periods (a) between species in the same trait (Beecher & Brenowit...
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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
We recommend extending CLASH by incorporating two evolutionary accounts of the shift toward fast life histories under harsh, unpredictable conditions. These accounts, if integrated with CLASH, make different predictions about the distributions of aggression and violence within and between societies. We discuss these predictions and propose ways of...
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Cultural transmission is often viewed as a domain-general process. However, a growing literature suggests that learnability is influenced by content and context. The idea of a learnability landscape is introduced as a way of representing the effects of interacting factors on how easily information is acquired. Extending prior work (Barrett & Broesc...
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Until recently, biology has lacked a framework for studying how information from genes, parental effects and different personal experiences is combined across the lifetime to affect phenotypic development. In the last few years researchers have begun building such a framework, using models that incorporate Bayesian updating to study the evolution o...
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Sensitive periods, in which experience shapes phenotypic development to a larger extent than other periods, are widespread in nature. Despite a recent focus on neural–physiological explanation, fewformal models have examined the evolutionary selection pressures that result in developmental mechanisms that produce sensitive periods. Here, we present...
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Development in many organisms appears to show evidence of sensitive windows—periods or stages in ontogeny in which individual experience has a particularly strong influence on the phenotype (compared to other periods or stages). Despite great interest in sensitive windows from both fundamental and applied perspectives, the functional (adaptive) rea...
Article
Children vary in the extent to which their development is shaped by particular experiences (e.g. maltreatment, social support). This variation raises a question: Is there no single level of plasticity that maximizes biological fitness? One influential hypothesis states that when different levels of plasticity are optimal in different environmental...
Article
In the short history of behavioral immune system (BIS) research, scholars have developed a number of empirical strategies for testing BIS hypotheses. These strategies have led to a wide variety of methods for testing (putatively) similar BIS hypotheses. The current article provides an overview of the 3 most frequent methods used in BIS research: cr...
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Many recent evolutionary psychology and human behavioral ecology studies have tested hypotheses by examining correlations between variables measured at a group level (e.g., state, country, continent). In such analyses, variables collected for each aggregation are often taken to be representative of the individuals present within them, and relations...
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Children, particularly girls, who experience early familial adversity tend to go on to reach sexual maturity relatively early. This feature of adolescent development is believed to be an evolved strategy that arose because individuals with genes that caused them to mature relatively early under certain conditions left behind more descendants than t...
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A predominant view in psychology is that early psychosocial adversity (e.g., abuse) impairs cognition, because children from stressful backgrounds (e.g., violent households) score lower on standard tests of intelligence, language, memory, inhibition, and other abilities. However, recent studies indicate that these people may exhibit improved detect...
Chapter
Often, mental development is viewed as resulting either from domain-general learning mechanisms or from highly specialized modules containing substantial innate knowledge. However, an evolutionary developmental perspective suggests that learning and specialization are not necessarily in opposition. Instead, natural selection can favor learning mech...
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The direction of an association at the population-level may be reversed within the subgroups comprising that population-a striking observation called Simpson's paradox. When facing this pattern, psychologists often view it as anomalous. Here, we argue that Simpson's paradox is more common than conventionally thought, and typically results in incorr...
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Many studies in humans have shown that adverse experience in early life is associated with accelerated reproductive timing, and there is comparative evidence for similar effects in other animals. There are two different classes of adaptive explanation for associations between early-life adversity and accelerated reproduction, both based on the idea...
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Interactions between evolutionary psychologists and developmental systems theorists have been largely antagonistic. This is unfortunate because potential synergies between the two approaches remain unexplored. This article presents a method that may help to bridge the divide, and that has proven fruitful in biology: dynamic optimization. Dynamic op...
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Harshness and unpredictability early in life appear to be independently associated with long-term developmental outcomes, with environmental stressors affecting parental investment (e.g., responsiveness), which then shapes child development (e.g., onset of puberty). Research has detailed mediating physiological pathways, but has not specified how c...
Preprint
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Many studies have shown that adverse experience in early life is associated with accelerated reproductive timing in humans. There are two different classes of adaptive explanation for such associations. Both can be seen as predictive adaptive responses (PARs). According to external PAR hypotheses, early-life adversity provides a ‘weather forecast’...
Preprint
Many studies have shown that adverse experience in early life is associated with accelerated reproductive timing in humans. There are two different classes of adaptive explanation for such associations. Both can be seen as predictive adaptive responses (PARs). According to external PAR hypotheses, early-life adversity provides a ‘weather forecast’...
Article
Dozens of studies show that bystanders are less likely to help victims as bystander number increases. However, these studies model one particular situation, in which victims need only one helper. Using a multi-player dictator game, we study a different but common situation, in which a recipient’s welfare increases with the amount of help, and donor...
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Newborn infants have a special affinity for motion. It is not surprising, therefore, that the perception of biological motion has an important role in the early development of infants. This chapter describes the development of biological motion perception across early development. The chapter provides a critical discussion about whether "limitation...
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Two significant questions in cognitive and developmental science are first, whether objects and events are selected for attention based on their features (featural processing) or the configuration of their features (configural processing), and second, how these modes of processing develop. These questions have been addressed in part with experiment...
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Four of the articles published in this special section of Developmental Psychology build on and refine psychosocial acceleration theory. In this short commentary, we discuss some of the adaptive assumptions of psychosocial acceleration theory that have not received much attention. Psychosocial acceleration theory relies on the behavior of caregiver...
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Previous research shows that men are more risk prone than women; single men take more risks than men involved in a romantic relationship; and men increase their level of risk taking in the presence of observers. We extend the existing literature with two studies. Our first study demonstrates that romantically involved men take less risk in the pres...
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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...
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The ability to adjust developmental trajectories based on experience is widespread in nature, including in humans. This plasticity is often adaptive, tailoring individuals to their local environment. However, it is less clear why some individuals are more sensitive to environmental influences than others. Explanations include differences in genes a...
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Development is typically a constructive process, in which phenotypes incrementally adapt to local ecologies. Here, we present a novel model in which natural selection shapes developmental systems based on the evolutionary ecology, and these systems adaptively guide phenotypic development. We assume that phenotypic construction is incremental and tr...
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Human infants face the formidable challenge of learning the structure of their social environment. Previous research indicates that infants have early-developing representations of intentional agents, and of cooperative social interactions, that help meet that challenge. Here we report five studies with 144 infant participants showing that 10- to 1...
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In a recent article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Ein-Dor et al. (2010) propose that insecure attachment styles harm the biological fitness of individuals, yet may have been favored by natural selection because they provide benefits for the group. This novel hypothesis proclaims that groups containing a mixture of secure and insecure at...
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We agree with Henrich et al. that documenting cultural universality and variability provides an indispensable window into human nature. We want to stress the mediating role development plays between evolution and culture. Moving beyond the mere documentation of universality or variability, developmental approaches can provide mechanistic explanatio...
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Previous studies suggest that men in Western societies are attracted to low female waist-to-hip ratios (WHR). Several explanations of this preference rely on the importance of visual input for the development of the preference, including explanations stressing the role of visual media. We report evidence showing that congenitally blind men, without...
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Research has shown that male risk taking is enhanced by the presence of observers. However, naturalistic observations and laboratory experiments have provided mixed evidence as to whether male physical risk taking is primarily directed at females, at other males, or both. We present a behavioral experiment in virtual reality in which males (N = 72)...
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A casual look at the literature in social cognition reveals a vast collection of biases, errors, violations of rational choice, and failures to maximize utility. One is tempted to draw the conclusion that the human mind is woefully muddled. We present a three-category evolutionary taxonomy of evidence of biases: biases are (a) heuristics, (b) error...
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We agree that much of language evolution is likely to be adaptation of languages to properties of the brain. However, the attempt to rule out the existence of language-specific adaptations a priori is misguided. In particular, the claim that adaptation to "moving targets" cannot occur is false. Instead, the details of gene-culture coevolution in la...
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Evolutionary psychologists tend to view the mind as a large collection of evolved, functionally specialized mechanisms, or modules. Cosmides and Tooby (1994) have presented four arguments in favor of this model of the mind: the engineering argument, the error argument, the poverty of the stimulus argument, and combinatorial explosion. Fodor (2000)...

Citations

... (2) cognitive flexibility, as reflected by the ability to shift attention between tasks; and (3) replacing older, irrelevant information from working memory with new, updated information (e.g., Fields et al., 2021;Mittal et al., 2015;Nweze et al., 2021;Young et al., 2018Young et al., , 2022. For example, Mittal and his colleagues (2015) reported that young adults who had experienced harsh and unpredictable childhoods showed deficits in inhibition (a component of executive function) but displayed enhanced abilities in task shifting (also a component of executive function) compared to people who had experienced less-harsh and more stable early environments, but only when testing was done in uncertain contexts. ...
... As evidenced by growing literature on reaction norms and polyphenisms investigating how nutrition, predator exposure, temperature and social environment influence phenotypes in diverse taxa (reviewed in [16][17][18]), there is vast interest in mechanisms of developmental plasticity, the extent to which such mechanisms link experiences to phenotypes [19] and whether these phenomena are subject to constraints [20]. Further, the importance of the timing of exposures in shaping the phenotypes upon which natural selection acts is increasingly recognized [21][22][23][24]. Central to each of these inquiries is how evolution has shaped the form of developmental plasticity [5,14,25,26]. ...
... The scarcity mindset litterature implicitly assumes that humans have evolved in environments of resource abundance, so that any deviation from this environment leads to dysfunction. While there is no doubt that harsh environments can lead to a number of impairments, we argue that the observed phenotypic differences may instead be the product of adaptive plasticity (for a similar argument about childhood in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, see Frankenhuis & Amir, 2021) . 4 We start by showing that in the ancestral environment, variations in the amount of resources available to individuals were large enough to favor the emergence of a plastic response. ...
... As evidenced by growing literature on reaction norms and polyphenisms investigating how nutrition, predator exposure, temperature and social environment influence phenotypes in diverse taxa (reviewed in [16][17][18]), there is vast interest in mechanisms of developmental plasticity, the extent to which such mechanisms link experiences to phenotypes [19] and whether these phenomena are subject to constraints [20]. Further, the importance of the timing of exposures in shaping the phenotypes upon which natural selection acts is increasingly recognized [21][22][23][24]. Central to each of these inquiries is how evolution has shaped the form of developmental plasticity [5,14,25,26]. ...
... Although not the main focus of this article, when discussing the developing brain and learning, the importance of plasticity (i.e., the brain's ability to change and adapt as a result of experience) is evident 17 . A typical distinction is made between brain plasticity that is experience-independent, in which brain changes unfolds, relatively independent of experience; brain plasticity that is experience-expectant, in which neural sensitivity is attuned to particular environmental stimuli during specific developmental windows (i.e., sensitive periods); and brain plasticity that is experience-dependent, which reflects experiences and environmental inputs that can vary between individuals and supports learning throughout life 18 . ...
... Development of the visual system provides a simple demonstration of experienceexpectant plasticity: Light input to the retina during a critical period in the first months of life is required for normal visual development; when this input is absent or atypical (e.g., occurs only in one eye), it produces lasting changes in vision and in the structure and function of brain circuits that support vision (Hensch, 2005;Hubel & Wiesel, 1970;Wiesel & Hubel, 1965). In some domains, the molecular "brakes" that dampen plasticity after a sensitive window closes can be lifted to allow further plasticity at later points in development (Bavelier et al., 2010;Frankenhuis & Nettle, 2020;Werker & Hensch, 2015). Within the sensitive window, the heightened plasticity that occurs in response to experience results from re-wiring mechanisms that strengthen certain synaptic connections and from synaptic pruning that eliminates other connections (Takesian & Hensch, 2013). ...
... According to LH theory, these decision-nodes will group together in ways that can be described as 'fast' and 'slow' on a continuum (Del Giudice et al., 2015). Despite the ongoing debate about what is characteristic of a fast as opposed to a slow LHS (Frankenhuis & Nettle, 2020), there is consensus that potential markers include the timing of sexual and reproductive behavior (e.g., pubertal age, sexual debut age, first birth age, first marriage age), the output of sexual and reproductive behavior (e.g., number of offspring), and the kind of sexual and reproductive mode (e.g., sexual partner count) (Del Giudice et al., 2015). Having multiple partners, bearing many offspring, and having earlier ages of reaching puberty, debuting sexually, having a first child, and having a first marriage are generally thought to mark a 'fast LHS' (Del Giudice et al., 2015). ...
... Condition dependence would in this case result from the coupling of a poorer quality phenotype with exposure to poorer quality environments generated by others exhibiting poorer quality phenotypes, which might encourage the development of faster life histories at a higher rate (e.g. Nettle, Frankenhuis, & Rickard, 2013). Consistent with this prediction, when validity generalization is performed on the correlation between fluid intelligence and the Mini-K (a 20 item short-form measure of K) a small but statistically significant positive correlation results (rho = .06; ...
... Environmental unpredictability, understood as the variation in encounters with stimuli in time and/or space (Ellis et al., 2009;Young et al., 2020), is an important factor contributing to the behavioral diversity of organisms (ethodiversity). Therefore, ethodiversity, known as beneficial for welfare (Shepherdson et al., 1998), is generated and maintained by the heterogeneity of the environment (Cordero-Rivera, 2017). ...
... Given evidence that intrinsic activity declines and desynchronizes as developmental plasticity is reduced, we predicted that the development of fluctuation amplitude would be characterized by heterochronous declines along the cortex's S-A axis and would be linked to the maturation of plasticity-regulating biological features. Furthermore, in light of recent theories that cortical maturation is accelerated by environmental adversity [42][43][44] , we predicted that youth from disadvantaged neighborhoods would exhibit functional markers suggestive of lower cortical plasticity. As described below, our in vivo analysis of a signature of neurodevelopment plasticity illuminated by animal models reveals that the S-A axis captures not only the hierarchical layout of diverse cortical properties, but also the temporal patterning of human developmental programs. ...