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Institute of Advanced Study

Sex Differences in Vulnerability

Abstract

Biologists have known for decades that many traits involved in competition for mates or other resources and that influence mate choice are exaggerated, and their development and expression is influenced by the individuals’ exposure to and ability to tolerate a variety of environmental and social stressors. In nonhuman species, conspecifics (members of same species) use these condition-dependent traits to identify less resilient competitors and avoid unhealthy mates. These traits, however, can be reframed to provide a nuanced approach to understand more fully the heightened sensitivity of a host of physical, social, psychological, cognitive and brain traits in humans. This principle can be used to identify children, adolescents or populations at risk for poor long-term outcomes and identify specific traits in each sex and at different points in development that are most easily disrupted by exposure to stressors. This article overviews the approach and provides several examples.

Insights Paper