An examination of the impact of harsh parenting contexts on children's adaptation within an evolutionary framework

Melissa L. Sturge-Apple, Patrick T. Davies, Meredith J. Martin, Dante Cicchetti, Rochelle F. Hentges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The current study tests whether propositions set forth in an evolutionary model of temperament (Korte, Koolhaas, Wingfield, & McEwen, 2005) may enhance our understanding of children's differential susceptibility to unsupportive and harsh caregiving practices. Guided by this model, we examined whether children's behavioral strategies for coping with threat and challenge cohered into 2 broad, phenotypic dimensions-hawk and dove-that have been maintained by frequency-dependent selection throughout our ancestral history: Hawk-like strategies are characterized by approach, dominant-negative affect, and activity, whereas dove-like strategies are evidenced by avoidance, inhibition, and vulnerable affect. In turn, we examined the moderating effect of hawk or dove profile membership on children's physiological and psychological adaptation to harsh rearing environments. Participants included 201 2-year-old toddlers and their mothers. Consistent with the Korte model, latent profile analyses extracted 2 profiles that cohered into hawk and dove strategies. Children were classified within hawk or dove profiles and separately examined in a process model of harsh caregiving. As predicted, associations between harsh caregiving practices and children's basal cortisol, parasympathetic nervous system, and sympathetic nervous system activity were moderated by profile membership. In turn, basal physiological levels were differentially predictive of children's psychological adaptation over time. Collectively, findings highlight the potential value of translating the study of evolutionary models to understanding developmental outcomes associated with harsh caregiving.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)791-805
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2012


  • Evolution theory
  • Harsh parenting
  • Stress response system
  • Temperament

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'An examination of the impact of harsh parenting contexts on children's adaptation within an evolutionary framework'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this