Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Main Articles

Sex, attachment, and the development of reproductive strategies

Marco Del Giudicea1

a1 Center for Cognitive Science, Department of Psychology, University of Turin, 10123 Torino, Italy


This target article presents an integrated evolutionary model of the development of attachment and human reproductive strategies. It is argued that sex differences in attachment emerge in middle childhood, have adaptive significance in both children and adults, and are part of sex-specific life history strategies. Early psychosocial stress and insecure attachment act as cues of environmental risk, and tend to switch development towards reproductive strategies favoring current reproduction and higher mating effort. However, due to sex differences in life history trade-offs between mating and parenting, insecure males tend to adopt avoidant strategies, whereas insecure females tend to adopt anxious/ambivalent strategies, which maximize investment from kin and mates. Females are expected to shift to avoidant patterns when environmental risk is more severe. Avoidant and ambivalent attachment patterns also have different adaptive values for boys and girls, in the context of same-sex competition in the peer group: in particular, the competitive and aggressive traits related to avoidant attachment can be favored as a status-seeking strategy for males. Finally, adrenarche is proposed as the endocrine mechanism underlying the reorganization of attachment in middle childhood, and the implications for the relationship between attachment and sexual development are explored. Sex differences in the development of attachment can be fruitfully integrated within the broader framework of adaptive plasticity in life history strategies, thus contributing to a coherent evolutionary theory of human development.

Marco Del Giudice is an evolutionary developmental psychologist at the Center for Cognitive Science, University of Turin, Italy. Still at the beginning of his research career, he has published in leading psychology and biology journals, including Developmental Psychology, Developmental Science, and Evolution. He is especially interested in the dynamics of developmental plasticity, the evolution of human life history, and the origins of individual differences in behavioral strategies.