The evolved psychological mechanisms of fertility motivation: hunting for causation in a sea of correlation

Lisa S McAllister, Gillian Pepper, Sandra Virgo, David A Coall

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Cultural, ecological, familial and physiological factors consistently influence fertility behaviours, however, the proximate psychological mechanisms underlying fertility decisions in humans are poorly understood. Understanding the psychological mechanisms underlying human fertility may illuminate the final processes by which some of these known predictors have their influence. To date, research into the psychological mechanisms underlying fertility has been fragmented. Aspects of reproductive psychology have been examined by researchers in a range of fields, but the findings have not been systematically integrated in one review. We provide such a review, examining current theories and research on psychological mechanisms of fertility. We examine the methods and populations used in the research, as well as the disciplines and theoretical perspectives from which the work has come. Much of the work that has been done to date is methodologically limited to examining correlations between ecological, social and economic factors and fertility. We propose, and support with examples, the use of experimental methods to differentiate causal factors from correlates. We also discuss weaknesses in the experimental research, including limited work with non-WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic) populations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20150151
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1692
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2016


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