Childhood experience, interpersonal development, and reproductive strategy: and evolutionary theory of socialization

Child Dev. 1991 Aug;62(4):647-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1991.tb01558.x.


The concept of "reproductive strategy" drawn from the field of behavioral ecology is applied to the study of childhood experience and interpersonal development in order to develop an evolutionary theory of socialization. The theory is presented in terms of 2 divergent development pathways considered to promote reproductive success in the contexts in which they have arisen. One is characterized, in childhood, by a stressful rearing environment and the development of insecure attachments to parents and subsequent behavior problems; in adolescence by early pubertal development and precocious sexuality; and, in adulthood, by unstable pair bonds and limited investment in child rearing, whereas the other is characterized by the opposite. The relation between this theory and prevailing theories of socialization, specifically, attachment, social-learning, and discrete-emotions theory, is considered and research consistent with our evolutionary theory is reviewed. Finally, directions for future research are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child Rearing / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Models, Psychological
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Reproduction
  • Sociology