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Costly and Cute

Helpless Infants and Human Evolution

Edited by Wenda R. Trevathan and Karen R. Rosenberg

Scholars have long argued that the developmental state of the human infant at birth is unique. This volume expands that argument, pointing out that many distinctively human characteristics can be traced to the fact that we give birth to infants who are highly dependent on others and who learn how to be human while their brains are experiencing growth unlike that seen in other primates. The contributors to this volume propose that the “helpless infant” has played a role in human evolution equal in importance to those of “man the hunter” and “woman the gatherer.” The authors take a broad look at how human infants are similar to and different from the infants of other species, at how our babies have constrained our evolution over the past six million years, and at how they continue to shape the ways we live today.

2016. 328 pp., 18 figures, 4 tables, notes, references, index, 6 x 9

Contributors: Jeremy DeSilva, Holly M. Dunsworth, Dean Falk, Lee Gettler, Kari Hanson, Sarah Hrdy, James McKenna, Marcia Ponce de León, Elizabeth Anne Quinn, Karen R. Rosenberg, Katerina Semendeferi, Wenda R. Trevathan, Christoph P. E. Zollikofer

Download an excerpt.

“I do not know how physical anthropologists will take all of this, but if I were a junior philosopher of science, I would be salivating at the contents of this . . . collection. There is so much about science and values. . . . I can see at least three or four dissertation topics, aided I should say by the biggest bibliography — over 70 pages with at least 10,000 references — I have ever seen in a book.”
Michael Ruse, Florida State University, Quarterly Review of Biology, September 2017


“This volume provides a valuable contribution by centering the role of infant development and agency within the context of human evolution, and adds new perspectives on the relationships between infants and mothers, fathers, and alloparents. This book would be particularly useful for scholars interested in topics including the obstetrical dilemma, evolution of the human brain, and infant development. This volume would be suitable for use in a graduate seminar exploring topics in human variation, hominin evolution, or developmental psychology. Additionally, McKenna’s final chapter should be required reading for scientists interested in communicating their research to a broader audience.”
Michelle A. Rodrigues and Kathryn B. H. Clancy, University of Illinois, American Journal of Human Biology, July/August 2017


“Anthropologists Trevathan (emer., New Mexico State Univ.) and Rosenberg (Univ. of Delaware) have amassed a ‘who’s who’ of scholars on the evolution of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting in this concise yet thorough volume stemming from a seminar at the School for Advanced Research. . . . This is an important collection of essays on the most up-to-date research on the costs and benefits of birthing helpless babies, ultimately arguing that much of what makes us human is related to our dependent infants. This scholarship highlights the promise and explanatory nature of a biocultural method grounded in evolutionary theory.”
J. Ullinger, Quinnipiac University, Choice magazine, June 2017


List of Illustrations

Chapter One: Human Evolution and the Helpless Infant
Wenda R. Trevathan and Karen R. Rosenberg

Chapter Two: The Obstetrical Dilemma Unraveled
Holly M. Dunsworth

Chapter Three: Primate Birth at the Extremes: Exploring Obstetric and Metabolic Constraints
Marcia Ponce de León and Christoph P. E. Zollikofer

Chapter Four: Brains, Birth, Bipedalism, and the Mosaic Evolution of the Helpless Human Infant
Jeremy M. DeSilva

Chapter Five: Infancy by Design: Maternal Metabolism, Hormonal Signals, and the Active Management of Infant Growth by Human Milk
E. A. Quinn

Chapter Six: Baby the Trendsetter: Three Evo-Devo Trends and Their Expression in Asperger Syndrome
Dean Falk

Chapter Seven: Plastic and Heterogeneous: Postnatal Developmental Changes in the Human Brain
Katerina Semendeferi and Kari L. Hanson

Chapter Eight: Testosterone, Fatherhood, and Social Networks
Lee T. Gettler

Chapter Nine: Of Marmosets, Men, and the Transformative Power of Babies
Sarah B. Hrdy

Chapter Ten: Forget Ye Not the Mother-Infant Dyad! In a World of Allomothers and Maternal Agency, Do Mothers Still Stand Out?
James J. McKenna


There are no working papers for this book at the present time.