The Adaptive Calibration Model of stress responsivity

Marco Del Giudice, Bruce J. Ellis, Elizabeth A. Shirtcliff

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

788 Scopus citations


This paper presents the Adaptive Calibration Model (ACM), an evolutionary-developmental theory of individual differences in the functioning of the stress response system. The stress response system has three main biological functions: (1) to coordinate the organism's allostatic response to physical and psychosocial challenges; (2) to encode and filter information about the organism's social and physical environment, mediating the organism's openness to environmental inputs; and (3) to regulate the organism's physiology and behavior in a broad range of fitness-relevant areas including defensive behaviors, competitive risk-taking, learning, attachment, affiliation and reproductive functioning. The information encoded by the system during development feeds back on the long-term calibration of the system itself, resulting in adaptive patterns of responsivity and individual differences in behavior. Drawing on evolutionary life history theory, we build a model of the development of stress responsivity across life stages, describe four prototypical responsivity patterns, and discuss the emergence and meaning of sex differences. The ACM extends the theory of biological sensitivity to context (BSC) and provides an integrative framework for future research in the field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1562-1592
Number of pages31
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Adaptation
  • Allostasis
  • Biological sensitivity to context
  • Cortisol
  • Developmental switch point
  • Evolution
  • Gender
  • Life history strategies
  • Plasticity
  • Reactivity
  • Sex differences
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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