Evolved Plasticity and Development
Plasticity is an evolved feature of Homo sapiens and is greatest early in development. Plasticity permits children to adjust to diverse environments and still grow up to be productive members of their society. This can be seen from the variety of rearing environments found in cultures around the world, from the child-adoring hunter-gatherers to those that view children as drains on resources. Plasticity is not infinite, however, but declines with age. Natural selection has provided children with sensitivity to early environments and the plasticity to entrain their development in adaptive ways, as explained by life history theory. Recent advances have provided important evidence for the proximal causes of changes in behavior as a result of experience—epigenetics, how genes are expressed in different contexts. We can now begin to understand plasticity at the level of the gene, and this has implications for understanding all forms of human functioning.
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