The effects of retrospectively examined early psychosocial stress on mate choice and sexual behaviour: a life history theory perspective

Nicole Koehler

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    Abstract

    [Truncated abstract] Early psychosocial stress is conjectured to place individuals on a developmental trajectory leading to earlier pubertal maturation, earlier initiation of sexual activity and earlier reproduction than those with less early psychosocial stress. This may have an adaptive function to minimise the chances of lineage extinction, which is more likely in environments of high risk and uncertainty. Previous studies have examined the relationship between early psychosocial stress and life history stages (e.g., age at puberty, age at first sex and age at first birth). However, these studies are limited in that they either examined only a few early psychosocial stressors, examined psychosocial stress relatively late in individuals' lives and/or were restricted to women. Thus, the first aim of the present thesis was to examine these findings in both genders using a measure of early psychosocial stress comprised of 24 categories of retrospectively assessed stressors (e.g., sexual abuse, physical abuse, parental divorce, rated quality of family life) during the first 7 years of life. It was hypothesised that individuals with high, as opposed to low, levels of early psychosocial stress would pass through life history stages earlier. The second aim was to examine how early psychosocial stress affects characteristics associated with life history traits, such as individuals? length, number and type of heterosexual relationships, number of sex partners, adult attachment styles, number of pregnancy terminations, and attitudes and behaviours towards contraceptive use. High levels of early psychosocial stress were predicted to be associated with characteristics reflecting a quantitative, as opposed to a qualitative, reproductive approach (e.g., more sex partners, more short-term relationships, insecure attachment styles). The third aim was to examine how early psychosocial stress is related to mate choice because numerous studies have identified what traits individuals' desire in a mate but not whether early psychosocial stress affects these choices. ... Early psychosocial stress generally had no effects on age at first sex, age at first birth, the number of pregnancy terminations, and mate choices. On the other hand, individuals with high, as opposed to low, levels of early psychosocial stress were more likely to be insecurely attached, had more short-term sexual relationships (men only), had more extra-pair copulations, were more likely to be divorced/separated, had a greater lifetime number of sex partners (men only), and had lower self-rated frequencies of contraception use. Overall, some of these findings are consistent with life history theory, which suggests that individuals with high levels of early psychosocial stress (i.e., those living in environments of high risk and uncertainty) should reach biological maturation earlier, engage in behaviours that facilitate earlier and more frequent reproduction to minimise the chances of lineage extinction. Implications for public health, limitations of the present study and future directions are also discussed.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2007

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