Exploring the links between early life and young adulthood social experiences and men's later life psychobiology as fathers

Mallika S. Sarma, Patty X. Kuo, Sonny Agustin Bechayda, Christopher W. Kuzawa, Lee T. Gettler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Early life cues of environmental harshness and unpredictability have been hypothesized to influence within-species variation in the timing of life history transitions and the dynamics of reproductive strategies, such as investments in mating and parenting. It is also believed that adolesence is an influential developmental period for male reproductive strategies, with those who achieve greater social and sexual success during that period maintaining faster life history strategies into adulthood. If correct, such early life and post-pubertal experiences could also help shape the psychobiological pathways that mediate reproductive strategies, including the well documented physiological shifts that occur when some men become parents. Drawing on a large sample of Filipino men (n = 417), we evaluate whether men who experienced cues of harshness or unpredictability in childhood or have earlier ages at sexual debut have elevated testosterone (T) as fathers. We also test whether males who experienced a combination of early life experiences of harshness or unpredictability and had earlier ages of sexual debut during adolescence had the most elevated T as fathers. We found that fathers who experienced early life harshness and who engaged in sex at an earlier age had elevated waking T. Among men transitioning to fatherhood across the 4.5-year follow-up period of this study, those who experienced unpredictability and who engaged in sex at an earlier age showed attenuated declines in waking T between baseline and follow-up. Complementing these findings, we found that fathers who first engaged in sex at later ages had greater acute declines in T when they played with their toddlers. We suggest that these patterns could reflect programming effects of sociosexual experiences during the years following the marked biological transitions that accompany puberty, which occur along with the better-studied effects of earlier life exposures to stressors. Overall, our results support the hypothesis that early life circumstances and social and sexual experiences, from early life to young adulthood, help calibrate physiological axes as key mechanisms coordinating dynamic life history strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-89
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Acute reactivity
  • Developmental plasticity
  • Fatherhood
  • Life history theory
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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