Adversity, Adaptive Calibration, and Health: The Case of Disadvantaged Families

Tomás Cabeza de Baca, Richard A. Wahl, Melissa A. Barnett, Aurelio José Figueredo, Bruce J. Ellis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Epidemiologists and medical researchers often employ an allostatic load model that focuses on environmental and lifestyle factors, together with biological vulnerabilities, to explain the deterioration of human physiological systems and chronic degenerative disease. Although this perspective has informed medicine and public health, it is agnostic toward the functional significance of pathophysiology and health deterioration. Drawing on Life History (LH) theory, the current paper reviews the literature on disadvantaged families to serve as a conceptual model of stress-health relationships in which the allocation of reproductive effort is instantiated in the LH strategies of individuals and reflects the bioenergetic and material resource tradeoffs. We propose that researchers interested in health disparities reframe chronic degenerative diseases as outcomes resulting from strategic calibration of physiological systems to best adapt, survive, and reproduce in response to demands of specific developmental contexts. These effects of adversity on later-age degenerative disease are mediated, in part, by socioemotional and cognitive mechanisms expressed in different life history strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-115
Number of pages23
JournalAdaptive Human Behavior and Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Adversity
  • Chronic degenerative disease
  • Disadvantaged families
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Harshness
  • Life history theory
  • Stress
  • Unpredictability
  • Unpredictability schema

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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