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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: August 2012

22 - Evolution of Human Growth



Why should a human evolutionary biologist study growth of the human body? The reason is because for multicellular organisms, most major evolutionary change proceeds by alterations in the pattern of growth, development, and maturation. The human species is no exception. In this chapter we review both classic and recent research on the evolution of the human pattern of growth. The major points of this review are:

  1. Humans have four stages of growth and development between birth and adulthood. These are infancy, childhood, juvenile, and adolescent.

  2. The infancy and juvenile stages are shared with most nonhuman primates, social carnivores, elephants, and many cetaceans. The childhood and adolescence stages are human species-specific features.

  3. Human childhood and adolescence evolved because they confer reproductive advantages, increasing the fertility of the parents and reducing the mortality of their offspring. This is classic natural selection.

  4. Adolescence may have evolved by both natural selection and sexual selection. Adolescents may contribute significant amounts of food and labor to their families and this enhances reproduction by the parents and survival of their offspring (natural selection). The sex-specific features of adolescent girls and boys enhances opportunities for an apprenticeship-type of learning and practice of the wide variety of economic, social, political, and sexual skills needed for their own adulthood and successful reproduction (sexual selection).

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