Substance, history, and politics: An examination of the conceptual underpinnings of alternative approaches to the life history narrative

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The aim of this article is to examine the relations between two approaches to the measurement of life history (LH) strategies: A traditional approach, termed here the biodemographic approach, measures developmental characteristics like birthweight, gestation length, interbirth intervals, pubertal timing, and sexual debut, and a psychological approach measures a suite of cognitive and behavioral traits such as altruism, sociosexual orientation, personality, mutualism, familial relationships, and religiosity. The biodemographic approach also tends not to invoke latent variables, whereas the psychological approach typically relies heavily upon them. Although a large body of literature supports both approaches, they are largely separate. This review examines the history and relations between biodemographic and psychological measures of LH, which remain murky at best. In doing so, we consider basic questions about the nature of LH strategies: What constitutes LH strategy (or perhaps more importantly, what does not constitute LH strategy)? What is gained or lost by including psychological measures in LH research? Must these measures remain independent or should they be used in conjunction as complementary tools to test tenets of LH theory? Although definitive answers will linger, we hope to catalyze an explicit discussion among LH researchers and to provoke novel research avenues that combine the strengths each approach brings to this burgeoning field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEvolutionary Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017



  • Human development
  • Life history theory
  • Personality
  • Pubertal timing
  • Sexual health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Medicine(all)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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