Willem Frankenhuis - How does natural selection shape development? - 25th of April 2014

Natural selection shapes developmental mechanisms, which adapt individuals to local environmental conditions

About the lecture

Fused together, evolutionary and developmental science can generate predictions about:

(1) what traits to expect at different life stages;

(2) what phenotypic variation to expect depending on ecology;

(3) what patterns of ontogenetic change to expect depending on ecology. 

In this talk, I will discuss theory and data bearing on these topics.  I will focus on recent models showing that natural selection can result in mechanisms that produce sensitive periods in development.  Such models may illuminate the roles of chronological age and previous life experiences in shaping plasticity across the human life span.  In addition, I will present recent data suggesting that developmental systems fine-tune human reasoning abilities to contents that are locally important.  Specifically, individuals from harsh conditions (e.g., violent neighborhoods) appear more skilled at memorizing social dominance relations (e.g., Jim dominates John) than chronological age relations (e.g., Jim is older than John); in contrast, students do not appear to show this content effect.  However, both students and harsh-adapted individuals appear more skilled at reasoning about social dominance relations than about chronological age relations.  Demonstrations of cognitive adaptation to harsh environments have implications for policy, education, and interventions.

About the speaker

Willem Frankenhuis is Assistant Professor, Department of Developmental Psychology, Behavioural Science Institute (BSI), Radboud University Nijmegen. Before that, he was working at the University of California in Los Angeles.  

More info: www.willem.maartenfrankenhuis.nl