Stress pp 81-99 | Cite as

The Assessment of Stress in Traditional Societies

  • Lincoln H. Schmitt
Part of the Studies in Biology, Economy and Society book series (SBES)


Homo sapiens has been subjected to the same evolutionary forces as other organisms leading, in the absence of marked changes in the environment, to a high level of adaptation. This forms a cornerstone of our view of the biological world. Natural selection, the force responsible for this adaptation, is a response to the environment in all its senses (physical and social), which the species inhabits. The process of adaptation has been a long one. During the Pleistocene, Man’s lifestyle as a hunter-gatherer was different in many important respects to that experienced by contemporary populations. While the environment during this period was far from constant, it was marked by a discontinuity at about 10,000 years ago with the domestication of wild species and the development of agriculture. The changing nature of the human environment has gained momentum since that time, leading ultimately to industrialization and the contemporary high-energy phase in Man’s ecological progression (Boyden, 1987). During these changes the human population has increased substantially. However, a consequence of rapid ecological change is the potential for previous adaptations to become selected against in the new ecological conditions, leading to reduced fitness of some genes, a situation that Boyden (1973) has termed phylogenetic maladjustment.


Excretion Rate Human Biology Physical Anthropology Traditional Society Population Pyramid 
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© The Galton Institute 1996

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  • Lincoln H. Schmitt

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