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Biological sensitivity to context: I. An evolutionary-developmental theory of the origins and functions of stress reactivity

Boyce, W. T., & Ellis, B. J. (2005), Development and Psychopathology, 17(2), 271-301.

This theoretical paper introduces the concept of Biological Sensitivity to Context, an evolutionary-developmental theory that describes how the quality of early life experiences shapes an individual’s level of sensitivity through the programming of their physiological stress reactivity.

According to this theory, particularly negative as well as especially positive childhood environments appear to be associated with greater physiological reactivity later in life.

In contrast, stress reactivity is lowest for individuals with childhood environments that were neither extremely beneficial nor extremely adverse.

Importantly, heightened physiological stress reactivity is then associated with increased sensitivity to both negative and positive experiences. The theory is supported by empirical studies which are reviewed.