Developmental Plasticity

Developmental plasticity is the ability of an organism to tailor its phenotype (i.e., its observable traits) to environmental conditions and to its somatic condition. This ability is widespread in nature: It exists in all life forms, including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and plants. This entry discusses developmental plasticity, its evolutionary origins and function, the physiological mechanisms that mediate it, individual differences, and sensitive periods.


Humans exhibit developmental plasticity in morphological, psychological, and behavioral traits, and these often change in concert. For example, given equal access to energy, females who grow up in harsh environments (e.g., violent neighborhoods) tend to mature faster, experience menarche earlier, develop an interest in having children at a younger age, engage in sex earlier, and have their first child at ...

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