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Death, Hope and Sex Revisited: An Evaluation of Psychosocial Acceleration Theory

COPPING, LEE,THOMAS (2014) Death, Hope and Sex Revisited: An Evaluation of Psychosocial Acceleration Theory. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Psychosocial Acceleration Theory (Belsky, Steinberg & Draper, 1991; Chisholm, 1993; 1999a) is an explanatory framework that recasts behaviours viewed as deviant or pathological (such as aggression and early reproductive behaviour) as adaptive strategies for individuals developing in high stress environments. Chisholm and later theorists linked disrupted attachment process during early childhood to perceptions of an uncertain future and local mortality rates. Uncertain futures cause individuals to focus on present consumption (shortening “time preference”) to avoid lineage extinction through accelerated reproductive function and competitive behaviours. Questions remain as to the details of how this process operates; specifically, the identification of environmental stressors, the specification of Chisholm’s “time preference” mechanism and the role of biological sex.
This thesis evaluated psychosocial acceleration theory by exploring these questions. The combined empirical evidence from seven studies (using primary and secondary data) generally supports and extends psychosocial acceleration theory as a framework for explaining how and why various behaviours cluster together in predictable ways and how these life history trajectories represent alternative, conditional strategies shaped by environmental experiences. Evidence suggests that sex-ratio, population density, socioeconomic stress, low education and shorter life expectancies represent distinct sources of stress that promote greater family instability, which in turn, increases aggression, crime, teenage pregnancies and reproductive development. However data also suggest (somewhat contrary to Chisholm) that these same environmental factors can act independently of family instability. Psychological traits (particularly sensation seeking and impulsivity) that meet key predictions derived from Chisholm’s work are discussed as mediating mechanisms representative of “time preference” linking perception of ecological stress with behaviour. The role of biological sex, whilst in line with many evolutionary derived predictions, demonstrates distinct pathways for males and females. Future work and limitations are discussed in commentaries throughout in relation to pertinent evolutionary literature.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Aggression, sexual behaviour, life history theory, evolution, impulsivity
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Science > Psychology, Department of
Thesis Date:2014
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:04 Dec 2014 11:31

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