When we don’t provide the Evolved Nest to our young, we can end up with a cycle of stress, self-centeredness and detachment, from baby to culture.
Listen to award-winning neuroscience researcher, Darcia Narvaez, PhD, share foundational insights into the Evolved Nest.
Visit the nonprofit initiative at www.EvolvedNest.org.
About Darcia Narvaez, PhD
Darcia Narvaez is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. Her prior careers include professional musician, classroom music teacher, business owner, seminarian and middle school Spanish teacher. Dr. Narvaez’s current research explores how early life experience influences societal culture, wellbeing and sociomoral character in children and adults. She integrates neurobiological, clinical, developmental and education sciences in her theories and research about human nature and human development.
She publishes extensively on moral development, parenting and education. Recently she has been studying the Evolved Nest and how it influences wellbeing, sociality and morality.
She hosts interdisciplinary conferences at the University of Notre Dame regarding early experience and human development (the talks and/or powerpoints are available online). In 2016, she organized a conference on Sustainable Wisdom: Integrating Indigenous KnowHow for Global Flourishing (talks available online).
She is the author or editor of numerous books and articles. Read her bio and blogs here: kindredmedia.org/author/darcia-narvaez-phd/
About the Evolved Nest
Every animal has a nest for its young that matches up with the maturational schedule of the offspring (Gottlieb, 1997). Humans too! The Evolved Nest (or Evolved Developmental Niche; EDN) refers to the nest for young children that humans inherit from their ancestors. It's one of our adaptations, meaning that it helped our ancestors survive. Most characteristics of the evolved nest emerged with social mammals more than 30 million years ago.
Humans are distinctive in that babies are born highly immature (only 25% of adult-sized brain at full-term birth) and should be in the womb another 18 months to even resemble newborns of other species! As a result, the brain/body of a child is highly influenced by early life experience.
Multiple epigenetic effects occur in the first months and years based on the timing and type of early experience. Humanity's evolved nest was first identified by Melvin Konner (2005) as the "hunter-gatherer childhood model" and includes breastfeeding 2-5 years, nearly constant touch, responsiveness to baby's needs, multiple responsive adult caregivers, free play with multiple-aged playmates, positive social support for mom and baby.
Calling these components the Evolved Nest or Evolved Developmental Niche, Narvaez and colleagues add to the list soothing perinatal experience (before, during, after birth) and a positive, welcoming social climate. All these are characteristic of the type of environment in which the human genus lived for 99% of its existence. Below are publications and a powerpoint about the evolved nest.
Why does the evolved nest matter? Early years are when virtually all neurobiological systems are completing their development. They form the foundation for the rest of life, including getting along with others, sociality and morality.