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Abstract

Human life histories, as compared to those of other primates and mammals, have at least four distinctive characteristics: an exceptionally long lifespan, an extended period of juvenile dependence, support of reproduction by older post-reproductive individuals, and male support of reproduction through the provisioning of females and their offspring. Another distinctive feature of our species is a large brain, with its associated psychological attributes: increased capacities for learning, cognition, and insight. In this paper, we propose a theory that unites and organizes these observations and generates many theoretical and empirical predictions. We present some tests of those predictions and outline new predictions that can be tested in future research by comparative biologists, archeologists, paleontologists, biological anthropologists, demographers, geneticists, and cultural anthropologists.