What studies about maternal abuse, prenatal stress, childhood trauma and insights from hunter-gatherers can teach us about normal and abnormal child development

Dr Riadh Abed, Dr Annie Swanepoel, Professor Vivetter Glover, Dr Nikhil Chaudhary

75 minutes


June 2022

Congress webinar


There is a lot of research that focuses on adverse childhood experiences and the effects on the brain and body. However, what is missing is to understand why these experiences continue to happen and to what extent children have adapted to cope. An evolutionary view, which considers the difference between disorder and adaptation, may increase our understanding.

• Why do mothers abuse or neglect their children? Parenting does not happen in a vaccum and is very sensitive to environmental factors. Children adapt the best they can to less than ideal circumstances. A lot of what we currently see as psychopathology may be better conceptualised as adaptations to a harsh environment. Dr Annie Swanepoel will discuss parent-offspring conflict, life history theory, attachment theory and differential susceptibility to help explain the complexity of childhood trauma

• Prof Vivette Glover is an expert on prenatal stress. While many of the neurodevelopmental changes are maladaptive in our current society, it is plausible that they are of adaptive benefit for animals in their native habitat, and for humans in earlier environments, when maternal stress was due to actual environmental danger, including from predators.

• Dr Nikhil Chaudhary will discuss his current project which considers how differences between industrialised lifestyles and those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors—specifically in the domains of social organisation and child rearing practices—may be responsible for the high prevalence of psychiatric disorders in the industrialised world. 

An evolutionary perspective on child maltreatment -Dr Annie Swanepoel, North East London Foundation Trust

Prenatal stress and effects on child neurodevelopment: evolutionary explanations -Professor Vivette Glover, Imperial College London

Evolutionary mismatch and mental disorder: insights from hunter-gatherer studies -Dr Nikhil Chaudhary, University of Cambridge

Dr Riadh Abed

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