Environmental harshness and unpredictability, life history, and social and academic behavior of adolescents in nine countries

Lei Chang, Hui Jing Lu, Jennifer E. Lansford, Ann T. Skinner, Marc H. Bornstein, Laurence Steinberg, Kenneth A. Dodge, Bin Bin Chen, Qian Tian, Dario Bacchini, Kirby Deater-Deckard, Concetta Pastorelli, Liane Peña Alampay, Emma Sorbring, Suha M. Al-Hassan, Paul Oburu, Patrick S. Malone, Laura Di Giunta, Liliana Maria Uribe Tirado, Sombat Tapanya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Safety is essential for life. To survive, humans and other animals have developed sets of psychological and physiological adaptations known as life history (LH) tradeoff strategies in response to various safety constraints. Evolutionarily selected LH strategies in turn regulate development and behavior to optimize survival under prevailing safety conditions. The present study tested LH hypotheses concerning safety based on a 6-year longitudinal sample of 1,245 adolescents and their parents from 9 countries. The results revealed that, invariant across countries, environmental harshness, and unpredictability (lack of safety) was negatively associated with slow LH behavioral profile, measured 2 years later, and slow LH behavioral profile was negatively and positively associated with externalizing behavior and academic performance, respectively, as measured an additional 2 years later. These results support the evolutionary conception that human development responds to environmental safety cues through LH regulation of social and learning behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)890-903
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Academic performance
  • Environmental harshness
  • Externalizing
  • Fast and slow life history strategy
  • Unpredictability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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