Middle Childhood: An Evolutionary-Developmental Synthesis

This is one of 26 chapters published in the Handbook of Life Course Health Development.



Middle childhood—conventionally going from about 6–11 years of age—is a crucial yet underappreciated phase of human development. On the surface, middle childhood may appear like a slow-motion interlude between the spectacular transformations of infancy and early childhood and those of adolescence. In reality, this life stage is anything but static: the transition from early to middle childhood heralds a global shift in cognition, motivation, and social behavior, with profound and wide-ranging implications for the development of personality, sex differences, and even psychopathology.

In the last two decades, converging theories and findings from anthropology, primatology, evolutionary psychology, endocrinology, and behavior genetics have revolutionized our understanding of middle childhood. In this chapter, I show how these diverse contributions can be synthesized into an integrated evolutionary-developmental model of middle childhood. I begin by reviewing the main evolved functions of middle childhood and the cognitive, behavioral, and hormonal processes that characterize this life stage. Then, I introduce the idea that the transition to middle childhood works as a switch point in the development of life history strategies and discuss three insights in the nature of middle childhood that arise from an integrated approach.


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