Environmental Triggers of Individual Differences

According to one theory , the critical event of early father presence versus father absence triggers specific sexual strategies in individuals (Belsky , Steinberg, & Draper, 1991). Children who grow up in father -absent homes during the first fi years of life, according to this theory , develop expectations that parental resources will not be reliably or predictably provided. Furthermore, these children come to expect that adult pair bonds will not be enduring. Such individuals cultivate a sexual strategy marked by early sexual maturation, early sexual initiation, and frequent partner switching—a strategy designed to produce a lar ger number of of fspring. Extraverted and impulsive personality traits may accompany and facilitate this sexual strategy. Other individuals are perceived as untrustworthy and relationships as transitory. Resources sought from brief sexual encounters are opportunistically attained and immediately extracted.

In contrast, individuals who experience a reliable, investing father during the first five years of life, according to the theo , develop a dif ferent set of expectations about the nature and trustworthiness of others. People are seen as reliable and trustworthy, and relationships are expected to be enduring. These early environmental experiences shunt individuals toward a long-term mating strategy , marked by delayed sexual maturation; a later onset of sexual activity; a search for long-term, securely attached adult relationships; and heavy investment in a small number of children.

There is some empirical support for this theory . Children from divorced homes, for example, are more sexually promiscuous than children from intact homes (Belsky et al., 1991). Furthermore, girls from father-absent homes reach menarche (age of firs menstruation) earlier than girls from father -present homes (Kim, Smith, & Palermiti, 1997). Nonetheless, these findings are correlational, so causation cannot be inferred It may be the case, for example, that men who are genetically predisposed to pursue a short-term mating strategy are more likely to get divorced and more likely to pass on to their children genes for that strategy (Bailey , Kirk, Zhu, Dunne, & Martin, 2000). However, despite the current lack of conclusive data, this theory nicely illustrates an evolutionary approach to the emer gence of consistent individual dif ferences—in this case, the effects of dif ferent environments on species-typical mechanisms.

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