Stress-adapted cognition, precarious environments, and ecological sensitivity to context
Wake Forest University
Sept. 15, 2022, 3 p.m. UTC // Sept. 15, 2022, 3 p.m. in UTC
Models of cognitive development in adverse conditions typically focus on dysregulation and pathology. Individuals who develop in unstable environments may develop deficiencies in skills and abilities as a result; research on such has led to what is referred to as the ‘deficit model’ of stress-induced mental impairment. However, some researchers have suggested that while cognitive development may be impaired along some dimensions, there may be adaptive effects as well, and these adaptive effects have been understudied. The ‘hidden talents’ approach, for example, surpasses a stand-alone deficit model by investigating how stress-adapted abilities may aid individuals in coping with—and possibly even thriving in—adverse conditions. This paper discusses the call for a shift toward evaluating the adaptive aspects of cognitive abilities that develop in precarious environments. I argue that this new line of research illustrates the importance of analyzing the specific coupling between cognitive strategies and environment contexts. A focus on the ecological relevance of cognitive behaviors highlights how stress-adapted cognition develops in relation to local factors. Precarious conditions can induce context-specific and context-dependent adaptive strategies. Strategies may be adaptive in the context in which they develop yet maladaptive outside of that context, resulting in instances of environmental mismatch.