Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development: From Research to Practice and Policy


The field of cognitive psychology has expanded rapidly in recent years, with experts in affective and cognitive neuroscience revealing more about mammalian brain function than ever before. In contrast, psychological problems such as ADHD, autism, anxiety, and depression are on the rise, as are medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune disorders. Why, in this era of unprecedented scientific self-knowledge, does there seem to be so much uncertainty about what ...

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The field of cognitive psychology has expanded rapidly in recent years, with experts in affective and cognitive neuroscience revealing more about mammalian brain function than ever before. In contrast, psychological problems such as ADHD, autism, anxiety, and depression are on the rise, as are medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune disorders. Why, in this era of unprecedented scientific self-knowledge, does there seem to be so much uncertainty about what human beings need for optimal development?

Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development asserts that human development is being misshaped by government policies, social practices, and public beliefs that fail to consider basic human needs. In this pioneering volume, scientists from a range of disciplines theorize that the increase in conditions such as depression and obesity can be partially attributed to a disparity between the environments and conditions under which our mammalian brains currently develop and our evolutionary heritage. For example, healthy brain and emotional development depends to a significant extent upon caregiver availability and quality of care. These include practices such as breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and parental social support, which have waned in modern society, but nevertheless may be integral to healthy development. As the authors argue, without a more informed appreciation of the ideal conditions under which human brains/minds develop and function, human beings will continue to struggle with suboptimal mental and physical health, and as problems emerge psychological treatments alone will not be effective. The best approach is to recognize these needs at the outset so as to optimize child development. Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development puts forth a logical, empirically based argument regarding human mammalian needs for optimal development, based on research from anthropology, neurobiology, animal science, and human development. The result is a unique exploration of evolutionary approaches to human behavior that will support the advancement of new policies, new attitudes towards health, and alterations in childcare practices that will better promote healthy human development.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a must-read for any neuroscientist, psychoanalyst, social science researcher, mental health practitioner, and educator. Ongoing dialogue through commentary and intense debate organize this volume with contributions from internationally known experts. We must integrate these findings as we struggle for answers regarding human dysfunction through psychological symptoms, violence in our communities, and the cyclical nature of human destructiveness. Many answers with clear direction toward realistic solutions are found in this long-overdue and compelling book." — Mark D. Smaller, Ph.D., President-elect, American Psychoanalytic Association and Executive Director (emeritus), The Neuropsychoanalysis Foundation

"Bringing together a diverse collection of some of the greatest experts on early development and social behavior, this carefully edited volume presents an exciting new paradigm. The interplay between nature and nurture, our evolved attachment system, and affective neuroscience are brought together to erect a framework that does justice to the caring side of our species." — Frans de Waal, Ph.D., C.H. Chandler Professor and Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes Primate Center, Emory University, and author of The Age of Empathy

"This is an exciting, thought-provoking, and intellectually stimulating collection of chapters by an interdisciplinary group of outstanding scholars. They tackle fundamental issues in human nature, such as the role of early experience and early parent-child bonds, the interweaving of biology, relationship, and culture, and evolutionary influences on adaptive and maladaptive development." — Grazyna Kochanska, Dewey B. and Velma P. Stuit Professor of Developmental Psychology, University of Iowa

"This volume offers a useful counterpoint to the fields' current enthusiasm for research and theory focused on resilience and the idea that all common patterns of behavior must be adaptive. The editors present the case for early adversity as the impetus for maladaptation, current child care arrangements as placing children at risk because they deviate markedly from our environment of evolutionary adaptedness, and the implications of this argument for child policies and practices. This volume is likely to spur debate." — Megan R. Gunnar, Regents Professor, Director, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota

"In spite of increasing evidence that our children are in peril, U.S. social and educational policies do not reflect core findings from decades of research on how to build healthy children. As the data mounts on the rates of school failure, developmental challenges, drug abuse, domestic violence, and incarceration, ignoring this information is akin to ignoring the capacity to immunize against widespread disease. This volume is an essential step toward changing the current epidemic of emotional and behavioral ill health enveloping our young." — Robin Karr-Morse, family therapist and author of Scared Sick and Ghosts from the Nursery

"The editors have assembled the absolutely top characters to explore this important topic-a book that is certain to be discussed." — L. Alan Sroufe, Professor Emeritus, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota

"The group of outstanding authors in this book present their sense of a most seductive evolutionary idea. Intriguing." — Ed Tronick, University Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts

"This groundbreaking volume confronts the conditions of modern childrearing with mounting interdisciplinary evidence on the optimization of development. Distinguished scientists from several fields, along with expert commentary, explore the implications of evolution for how we raise children. This volume is field-expanding and will have a galvanizing effect on research, policy and practice for years to come." — Ruth Lanius, London Health Sciences Centre, London, Ontario, Canada

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199755059
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 11/6/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 506
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Darcia Narvaez is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. Her research focuses on moral development through the lifespan with a particular emphasis on early life effects on the neurobiology underpinning moral functioning (triune ethics theory). Dr. Narvaez has co-authored or co-edited seven books and is editor of the Journal of Moral Education.
Jaak Panksepp is the Baily Endowed Chair of Animal Well-Being Science at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University, in the Department of Comparative Anatomy, Pharmacology, and Physiology. His work has been devoted to the analysis of neuroanatomical and neurochemical mechanisms of emotional behavior, with a focus on understanding how basic affective processes are evolutionarily organized in the brain. He is the author of Affective Neuroscience (2004) and Archaeology of the Mind (2012).
Allan N. Schore is on the clinical faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. His interdisciplinary studies on Regulation Theory, grounded in developmental neuroscience and developmental psychoanalysis, focus on the origin, psychopathogenesis, and psychotherapeutic treatment of the early forming subjective implicit self. He is the author of Affect Regulation and the Repair of the Self (2003) and The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy (2012).
Tracy R. Gleason is the Whitehead Associate Professor of Critical Thought in the Psychology Department at Wellesley College, where her research focuses on the development of children's understanding of their relationships with others. Dr. Gleason is also Psychological Director of the Wellesley College Child Study Center. Her work has appeared in journals such as Developmental Psychology and the Journal of Educational Psychology.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1. The Value of the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness for gauging children's well-being
Darcia Narvaez, Jaak Panksepp, Allan Schore, Tracy Gleason
Chapter 2. Bowlby's "Environment of evolutionary adaptedness": Recent studies on the interpersonal neurobiology of attachment and emotional development
Allan Schore
Commentary: Early experience, neurobiology, plasticity, vulnerability and resilience by Michael Lamb
Chapter 3. How primary-process emotional systems guide child development: Ancestral regulators of human happiness, thriving and suffering
Jaak Panksepp
Commentary: The integrative meaning of emotion by Daniel Siegel
Chapter 4. Epigenetics and the environmental regulation of the genome and its function
Michael Meaney
Commentary: The messages of epigenetic research by Jerome Kagan
Chapter 5. Neurobiology and the evolution of mammalian social behavior
C. Sue Carter and Stephen W. Porges
Chapter 6. Dopamine: Another 'magic bullet' for caregiver responsiveness?
Alison Fleming, Viara Mileva-Seitz, Veronica M. Afonso
Chapter 7. The Neurobiological basis of empathy and its development in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness
Eric E. Nelson
Commentary: The Death of Empathy? by Bruce Perry

SECTION COMMENTARY: Born For Art, and the Joyful Companionship of Fiction by Colwyn Trevarthen

Chapter 8. Birth and the first postnatal hour
Wenda R. Trevathan
Chapter 9. Night-time nurturing: an evolutionary perspective on breastfeeding and sleep
Helen Ball and Charlotte Russell
Chapter 10. Touch and pain perception in infants
Tiffany Field and Maria Hernandez-Reif
Chapter 11. Infant feeding practices: rates, risks of not breastfeeding and factors influencing breastfeeding
Zaharah Sulaiman, Lisa H. Amir and Pranee Liamputtong
Commentary: Short term and long term effects of oxytocin released by suckling and of skin to skin contact in mothers and infants by Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg
Chapter 12. Developmental optimization
Darcia Narvaez & Tracy Gleason
Commentary: Darwin et al. on developmental optimization by David Loye

SECTION COMMENTARY: Adaptations and Adaptations by Ross Thompson

Chapter 13. Play, plasticity, and ontogeny in childhood
Anthony D. Pellegrini and Adam F. A. Pellegrini
Chapter 14. The Value of a play-filled childhood in development of the hunter-gatherer individual
Peter Gray
Chapter 15. Rough-and-tumble play and the cooperation-competition dilemma: Evolutionary and developmental perspectives on the development of social competence
Joseph L. Flanders, Khalisa N. Herman, and Daniel Paquette
Commentary: Play in Hunter-Gatherers by Barry Hewlett and Adam H. Boyette

Chapter 16. Perspective 1: Why would natural selection craft an organism whose future functioning is influenced by its earlier experiences?
Jay Belsky
Chapter 17. Perspective 2: Play, Plasticity, and the Perils of Conflict: 'Problematizing' Sociobiology
Melvin Konner
Chapter 18. Perspective 3: The Emergent Organism: A New Paradigm
William Mason
Chapter 19. Perspective 4: Can science progress to a revitalized past?
Gay Bradshaw
Chapter 20. Perspective 5: Earliest experiences and attachment processes
Howard Steele
Chapter 21. Perspective 6: Nurturant vs. non-nurturant environments and the failure of the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness
James W. Prescott
Chapter 22. Perspective 7: It's dangerous to be an infant: on-going relevance of John Bowlby's Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (the EEA) in promoting healthier births, safer maternal-infant sleep, and breastfeeding in a contemporary western industrial context
James J. McKenna and Lee T. Gettler

Chapter 23. The Future of human nature: Implications for research, policy, and ethics
Darcia Narvaez, Jaak Panksepp, Allan Schore and Tracy Gleason

Subject Index
Author Index

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