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Humans invest precious reproductive resources in just a few offspring, who remain vulnerable for an extended period of their lifetimes relative to other primates. Therefore, it is likely that humans evolved a rich precautionary psychology that assists in the formidable task of protecting offspring. In this review, we integrate precautionary behaviors during pregnancy and postpartum with the adaptive functions they may serve and what is known of their biological mediators, particularly brain systems motivating security and attachment. We highlight the role of reproductive hormones in (i) priming parental affiliation with young to incentivize offspring protection, (ii) focusing parental attention on cues of potential threat, and (iii) facilitating maternal defense against potentially dangerous conspecifics and predators. Throughout, we center discussion on adaptive responses to threats of disease, accident and assault as common causes of child mortality in the ancestral past.


NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, volume 35, in 2011. DOI:10.1016/j.physletb.2003.10.071

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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