Facultative Adjustments in Future Planning Tendencies: Insights on Life History Plasticity from the Flint Water Crisis
Life history theory (LHT) is a powerful explanatory framework examining how developmental environments and life experiences shape allocations of effort to fitness-promoting domains in nested sets of trade-offs. Time orientation is a central psychological aspect of human life history variation, representing the degree to which behaviors are oriented towards immediate versus future goals. Identifying critical sensitive periods for shaping life history variation and verifying the scope of life history plasticity are important issues for both theory and practical application. Many LHT frameworks propose sensitive periods from gestational development through middle childhood, though recent research suggests facultative adjustments may occur much later in the lifespan. The current study examines how experiences of poor tap water quality during the Flint water crisis, associated with toxic contamination and adverse health effects, may have affected time orientations. Degraded expectations for health and longevity may have affected psychological aspects of life history variation, with important consequences for health-related behaviors. Controlling for socio-demographics and other environmental factors associated with life history variation, those who experienced worse tap water quality had lower general tendencies for future planning. Tap water quality experiences predicted several health-related behaviors, independent of socio-demographics, some relationships were mediated through tendencies for future planning.
KeywordsLife history theory Flint water crisis Time orientation Sensitive period Plasticity
The 2015 Speak to Your Health! Community Survey was supported by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, and the Genesee County Health Department. We thank the Speak to Your Health! Survey Committee members and all those who participated in the project for their assistance.
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