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

Document Type



Royal Society of London


School of Medical and Health Sciences




Originally published as : McAllister, Lisa S (04.2016). "The evolved psychological mechanisms of fertility motivation: hunting for causation in a sea of correlation.". Philosophical transactions. Biological sciences (0962-8436), 371 (1692), p. 19. Article available here


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. © 2016 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.