Why Are Childhood Family Factors Associated With Timing of Maturation? A Role for Internal Prediction

Ian J. Rickard*, Willem E. Frankenhuis, Daniel Nettle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Children, particularly girls, who experience early familial adversity tend to go on to reach sexual maturity relatively early. This feature of adolescent development is believed to be an evolved strategy that arose because individuals with genes that caused them to mature relatively early under certain conditions left behind more descendants than those who did not. However, although much has been done to uncover the psychological and physiological mechanisms underlying this process, less attention has been paid to the evolutionary reasons behind why it might be advantageous. It has previously been suggested that this strategy evolved because early familial adversity accurately indicated later environmental adversity, under which conditions early reproduction would likely maximize evolutionary fitness. In this article, we contrast this "external prediction" model with an alternative explanation, which builds on the existing explanation and is mutually compatible with it but also distinct from it. We argue that accelerated development is advantageous because early adversity detrimentally affects the individual's body, increasing later morbidity and mortality; individuals may adapt to this internal setback by accelerating their development. Unlike the external prediction model, this "internal prediction" relies not on temporal environmental continuity but on long-term effects of early circumstances on the body. © The Author(s) 2013.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-15
Number of pages13
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • developmental plasticity
  • familial adversity
  • life history
  • psychosocial acceleration
  • puberty


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