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Responses to early-life adversity

Adversity during early life can reach far into the future to exert profound effects on health and well-being during adulthood. Striking parallels exist between early-life effects in humans and in natural animal populations.

The leading conceptual models for early-life effects propose different evolutionary explanations for these phenomena.

Developmental constraints models propose that harsh early-life conditions lead to developmental tradeoffs that prioritize immediate survival at the cost of reduced health, reproduction, and/or survival later in life.

Predictive adaptive response (PAR) models posit that early-life conditions provide cues for predicting future conditions, leading to adaptive responses during development that maximize evolutionary fitness under predicted conditions.

There are several important gaps in our understanding.

First, which of these frameworks best explains the emergence of early-life effects in nonhuman primates? Second, to what extent are such effects embedded in our evolutionary history? Third, what are the optimal approaches to mitigating disparities in health and well-being that result from exposure early-life adversity in humans?

Motivated by these questions, I am leveraging a database of life history data on seven natural primate populations to shed light on the mechanisms that underlie the far-reaching effects of early-life adversity and to test the universality of these effects among close relatives of humans.