Evolution of stress response to social threat

Mark V. Flinn

in Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology

Published in print April 2007 | ISBN: 9780198568308
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Evolution of stress response to social threat

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience



This article reviews the idea that humans evolved large brains and an extended childhood as adaptations that enable the development of social skills for coping with an increasingly complex and dynamic social and cultural environment. It then explores relations between physiological stress response and the ontogeny of social competencies. Two complementary theoretical models of hormonal stress response are considered: maladaptation to the novelty of chronic stress in social environments, and adaptive neural reorganisation. These two perspectives are interwoven in an evolutionary developmental analysis, complicated by the pleiotropic nature of the key stress hormone, cortisol. The article provides a plausible model and some new pieces for the puzzle linking stress response to the neural plasticity that enables adaptation to the dynamic human social environment.

Keywords: humans; brains; adaptations; social skills; stress response; ontogeny; competencies; maladaptation; environments; neural plasticity

Article.  15298 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience

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