University of ArizonaNorton School of Family and Consumer Sciences

Bruce J. Ellis, Ph.D.

John & Doris Norton Endowed Chair in Fathers, Parenting, and Families
Family Studies and Human Development
650 N Park Ave
Tucson, Arizona 85721-0078
(520) 626-5703

Go Directly to:
Areas of Expertise | Research Focus | Current Projects | Subjects Taught |
Select PublicationsFathers, Parenting, and Families Initiative | Evolution Institute workshop on Risky Adolescent Behavior | Press Releases (public summaries of research) | Web-Based Presentations

As an iconoclast in my youth, and someone who was always attracted to big ideas, I developed a strong interest in evolutionary psychology—the idea that Darwin’s great theory could help explain human psychology and behavior.  I knew that I was on to something when I gave my very first classroom presentation on this topic (in an undergraduate Sociology of Sex Roles class at Cal Poly); it caused such a stir that the professor went in for 3 hours of Gestalt Therapy afterwards.  Now I always tell my students that if they can so fundamentally challenge their professors’ ideas that it sends them into therapy, then they are doing their jobs as creative thinkers and learners.  

After graduating from Cal Poly, I pursued doctoral training in evolutionary and personality psychology at the University of Michigan, where I studied the mating behavior of college students.  This early work, however, largely ignored developmental processes. I eventually became dissatisfied with this approach, underwent three years of postdoctoral training in developmental psychopathology at Vanderbilt University, and shifted from studying adult behavior to child and adolescent development.

In both my teaching and research, I emphasize biospsychosocial processes in fathers, parenting, and family stress and their effects on development and health. As the Norton Chair, my goal is collaboration and advancement of knowledge around a set of shared research questions in this area. To make sense of it all, I rely on evolutionary-developmental theory, which guides how I form hypotheses, aids in recognizing and integrating significant observations, and suggests lines of research to pursue (and avoid).  


Areas of expertise: 
  • Evolutionary-developmental psychology
  • Stress-health relationships
  • Impact of fathers and families on adolescent development
  • Timing of puberty
  • Neurobiological susceptibility to environmental influence
  • Adaptive individual differences


Research Focus: 

As an overarching goal of my career, I seek to leverage knowledge from both evolutionary biology and developmental science to address core issues in developmental psychopathology, especially in relation to child and adolescent health. At one level, this involves theory development: advancing new models of how our biobehavioral systems respond to specific features of family environments and the larger ecological context.  This work employs life history theory to model how these responses regulate stress-health relations over the life course.  At another level, my work focuses on theory testing: examining the impact of fathers, family relationships, and socioecological conditions on children’s biological stress responses, timing of pubertal development, risky adolescent behavior and cognition, and related health outcomes.  Although my research has shown replicable effects of families and ecological stress on these developmental outcomes, the size of these effects differ across individuals. That is, some children are more impacted by their rearing experiences than are others. Another focus of my research, therefore, is investigating differences between children in their neurobiological susceptibility to environmental influence.

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Current Projects: 
  • Principal Investigator, Impact of Fathers on Adolescent Sexual Development and Risk Behaviors: Experimental and Sibling Studies. Supported by National Science Foundation (NSF); Fathering the Future Trust; Norton Fathers, Parenting, & Families Endowment.  Collaborators: Sarah Hill, Danielle DelPriore, Gabriel Schlomer.
  • Principal Investigator, Influence of Family Stress and Support on Adolescent Sexual Development and Risk Behaviors: Longitudinal Studies. Supported by grants from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Science Foundation (NSF). Collaborators: Jenee James, Julianna Deardorff, Robert Quinlan, Marilyn Essex, Judy Garber, Ken Dodge, Elizabeth Shirtcliff.
  • Co-Investigator, Biological Reactivity to Stress as a Marker of Susceptibility to Environmental Influence. Funding from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). Collaborators: Tom Boyce, Marilyn Essex, Elizabeth Shirtcliff, Julianna Deardorff, Marco Del Giudice.
  • Principal Investigator, Effects of Harsh versus Unpredictable Environments on Risky Adolescent Behavior. Collaborators: Gabriel Schlomer, Barbara Brumbach, AJ Figueredo, Jay Belsky.
  • Co-Principal Investigator, Fathers, Parents and Family Connections. Funded by the Norton Endowment for Fathers, Parenting and Families. Principal Investigator: Melissa Barnett.  Collaborators: Gabriel Schlomer, Tomas DeBaca, Ashley King.
  • Principal Investigator, Cognitive Adaptation to Harsh Environments.  Collaborators: JeanMarie Bianchi, Willem Frankenhuis, Jake Jacobs.


Subjects Taught: 
  • Biosocial mechanisms of Stress, Development, and Health (graduate)
  • Biosocial development (undergraduate and graduate)
  • Applied Statistical Analysis (graduate)
  • Research Methods in Family Studies and Human Development (graduate)
  • Adolescent Health and Development (graduate)
  • Developmental Plasticity and Evolution (graduate)
  • Family Relationships and Development of Reproductive Strategies (graduate)


Select Publications: 

Please contact Dr. Bruce Ellis if you are unable to locate one of the publications listed below.

Note: Asterisks indicate graduate students under the direction of Ellis.

Bjorklund, D.F., & Ellis, B.J. (in press). Children, childhood, and development in evolutionary perspective. Developmental Review.  

Bjorklund, D.F., Hernández Blasi, C., & Ellis, B.J. (in press). Evolutionary developmental psychology. In D.M. Buss (Ed.), The Evolutionary Psychology handbook (2nd Ed.).  New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Del Giudice, M., & Ellis, B.J. (in press). Evolutionary foundations of developmental psychopathology.  In D. Cicchetti (Ed.), Developmental psychopathology, Vol. 1: Theory and method (3rd Ed.). New York: Wiley & Sons.

*Mittal, C., Griskevicius, V., & Ellis, B.J. (in press).  Consumer behavior across the lifespan: A Life History Theory perspective.  In S. Preston, M. Kringelbach, & B. Knutson (Eds.), The Interdisciplinary Science of Consumption.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 

Ellis, B.J., *Jordan, A.C., Grotuss, J., Csinady, A., Keenan, T., & Bjorklund, D.F. (2014). The predator-avoidance effect: An evolved constraint on emerging theory of mindEvolution and Human Behavior, 35, 245–256. 

Ellis, B.J., & Del Giudice, M. (2014). Beyond allostatic load: Rethinking the role of stress in regulating human developmentDevelopment and Psychopathology, 26, 1–20. 

*Kavanagh, P. S., Fletcher, G. J., & Ellis, B. J. (2014). The Mating Sociometer and Attractive Others: A Double-Edged Sword in Romantic RelationshipsThe Journal of Social Psychology154, 126-141.

Ellis, B.J. (2013). The hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis: A switch-controlled, condition-sensitive system in the regulation of life history strategiesHormones and Behavior64, 215–225

Sijtsema, J.J., Nederhof, E., Veenstra, R., Ormel, J., Oldehinkel, A.J., &  Ellis, B.J. (2013). Family cohesion, prosocial behavior, and aggressive/delinquent behavior in adolescence: Moderating effects of biological sensitivity to context. The TRAILS Study. Development and Psychopathology, 25, 699–712.

*James, J., & Ellis, B.J. (2013).  The development of human reproductive strategies: Toward an integration of life history and sexual selection models.  In J.A. Simpson & L. Campbell (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of close relationships (pp. 771-794).  New York: Oxford University Press.

Del Giudice, M., Ellis, B. J., & Shirtcliff, E. A. (2013). Making sense of stress: An evolutionary-developmental framework.  In G. Laviola, & S. Macrì (Eds.), Adaptive and Maladaptive aspects of developmental stress (pp. 23-44). New York: Springer.

Ellis, B. J., Del Giudice, M., & Shirtcliff, E. A. (2013). Beyond allostatic load: The stress response system as a mechanism of conditional adaptation.  In T. P. Beauchaine & S. P. Hinshaw (Eds.), Child and adolescent psychopathology (2nd Ed.) (pp. 251-284).  New York: Wiley & Sons.  

Ellis, B.J. (2013).  Risky adolescent behavior: An evolutionary perspective. In B.L. Hewlett (Ed.), Adolescent identity: Evolutionary, developmental and cultural perspectives (pp. 40-72).  New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis.

*Durrant, R., & Ellis, B.J. (2013). Evolutionary psychology.  In R.J. Nelson & S.J.Y. Mizumori (Eds.), Handbook of psychology, Vol. 3: Behavioral neuroscience (2nd Ed.) (pp. 26-51).  Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

*Cabeza De Baca, T., Figueredo, A.J., & Ellis, B.J. (2012).  An evolutionary analysis of variation in parental effort: Determinants and assessment.  Parenting: Science and Practice12, 94-104.

Ellis, B.J., & Bjorklund, D.F. (Eds.) (2012).  Beyond mental health: An evolutionary analysis of development under risky and supportive environmental conditions. Introduction to the Special Section. Developmental Psychology48, 591-597.

Del Giudice, M., Hinnant, J.B., Ellis, B.J., & El-Sheikh, M. (2012). Adaptive patterns of stress responsivity: A preliminary investigationDevelopmental Psychology48, 775-790.

Ellis, B.J., Del Giudice, Dishion, T.J., M., Figueredo, A.J., Gray, P., Griskevicius, V., Hawley, P.H., Jacobs, W.J., *James, J., Volk, A.A., & Wilson, D.S. (2012).  The evolutionary basis of risky adolescent behavior: Implications for science, policy, and practiceDevelopmental Psychology. 48, 598-623.

*James, J., Ellis, B.J., *Schlomer, G.L., & Garber, J. (2012). Sex-specific pathways to early puberty, sexual debut and sexual risk-taking: Tests of an integrated evolutionary-developmental modelDevelopmental Psychology, 48, 687-702.

Belsky, J., *Schlomer, G.L., & Ellis, B.J. (2012).  Beyond cumulative risk: Distinguishing harshness and unpredictability as determinants of parenting and early life history strategy.  Developmental Psychology, 48, 662-673.

Ellis, B.J., Schlomer, G.L., Tilley, E.H., & Butler, E.A. (2012). Impact of fathers on risky sexual behavior in daughters: A genetically and environmentally controlled sibling study.  Development and Psychopathology24, 317–332.

*Jordan, A.C., *Schlomer, G.L., & Ellis, B.J. (2012).  Evolutionary developmental psychology.  In  V. S. Ramachandran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Human Behaviour  (2nd Ed.) (pp. 103-110).  Elsevier. 

Del Giudice, M., Ellis, B. J., & Shirtcliff, E. A. (2011). The Adaptive Calibration Model of stress responsivity. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35, 1562-1592.

*Schlomer, G.L., Del Giudice, M., & Ellis, B.J. (2011). Parent–Offspring Conflict Theory: An evolutionary framework for understanding conflict within human familiesPsychological Review118, 496-521.

Ellis, B.J. (2011). Toward an evolutionary-developmental explanation of alternative reproductive strategies: The central role of switch-controlled modular systems. In D.M. Buss & P.H. Hawley (Eds.), The evolution of personality and individual differences (pp. 177-209). New York: Oxford University Press.

Ellis, B.J., Shirtcliff, E.A., Boyce, W.T., Deardorff, J., & Essex, M.J. (2011). Quality of early family relationships and the timing and tempo of puberty: Effects depend on biological sensitivity to contextDevelopment and Psychopathology, 23, 85-99.

Ellis, B.J., Boyce, W.T., Belsky, J., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.J., & van IJzendoorn, M.H. (2011). Differential susceptibility to the environment: An evolutionary- neurodevelopmental theory. Development and Psychopathology, 23, 7-28.

Ellis, B.J., & Boyce, W.T. (2011). Differential susceptibility to the environment: Toward an understanding of sensitivity to developmental experiences and context. Editorial introducing Special Section of Development and Psychopathology, 23, 1-5.

*Hohman, Z. J., & Ellis, B. J. (2011). Evolutionary psychology. In D. Dunn (Ed.), Oxford Bibliographies Online: Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ellis, B.J. (2011).  On becoming an evolutionary-developmental psychologist.  In X.T. Wang & Y.J. Su (Eds.), Thus spake evolutionary psychologists (pp. 158-166).  Beijing, China: Peking University Press.

*Kavanagh, P.S., *Robins, S., & Ellis, B.J. (2010). The mating sociometer: A regulatory mechanism for mating aspirations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 120-132.

*Schlomer, G.L., Ellis, B.J., & Garber, J. (2010). Mother-child conflict and sibling relatedness: A test of hypotheses from parent-offspring conflict theory. Journal of Research in Adolescence, 20, 287-306.

Ellis, B.J., Figueredo, A.J., *Brumbach, B.H., & *Schlomer, G.L. (2009). Fundamental dimensions of environmental risk: The impact of harsh versus unpredictable environments on the evolution and development of life history strategies. Human Nature, 20, 204-268.

*Brumbach, B.H., Figueredo, A.J., & Ellis, B.J. (2009). Effects of harsh and unpredictable environments in adolescence on the development of life history strategies: A longitudinal test of an evolutionary model. Human Nature, 20, 25–51.

*Jackson, J.J., & Ellis, B.J. (2009). Synthesizing life history theory with sexual selection: Toward a comprehensive model of alternative reproductive strategies. Commentary in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32, 31-32.

*Tither, J.M., & Ellis, B.J. (2008). Impact of fathers on daughters’ age at menarche: A genetically- and environmentally-controlled sibling study. Developmental Psychology, 44, 1409-1420.

Ellis, B.J., & Boyce, W.T. (2008). Biological sensitivity to context. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 183-187.

Park, I.J.K., Garber, J., Ciesla, J.A., & Ellis, B.J. (2008). Convergence among multiple methods of measuring the family environment: Relation to depression in mothers and their children. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 123-134.

Ellis, B.J., & Essex, M.J. (2007). Family environments, adrenarche, and sexual maturation: A longitudinal test of a life history model. Child Development, 78, 1799-1817.

Bjorklund, D.F., Ellis, B.J., & Rosenberg, J.S. (2007).  Evolved probabilistic cognitive mechanisms: An evolutionary approach to gene x environment x development interactions. Advances in Child Development and Behavior, 35, 1-36.

*Healey, M.D., & Ellis, B.J. (2007). Birth order, conscientiousness, and openness to experience: Tests of the family-niche model of personality using a within-family methodology.  Evolution & Human Behavior, 28, 55-59.

Ellis, B.J., *Jackson, J.J., & Boyce, W.T. (2006). The stress response systems: Universality and adaptive individual differences.  Developmental Review, 26, 175-212.

Kirkpatrick, L. A., & Ellis, B.J.  (2006).  What is the evolutionary significance of self-esteem? The adaptive functions of self-evaluative psychological mechanisms.  In M. H. Kernis (Ed.) Self-esteem: Issues and answers (pp. 334-339). New York: Psychology Press.

Boyce, W. T., & Ellis, B.J. (2005). Biological sensitivity to context: I. An evolutionary-developmental theory of the origins and functions of stress reactivity. Development & Psychopathology, 17, 271-301.

Ellis, B.J., Essex, M.J., & Boyce, W.T. (2005). Biological sensitivity to context: II. Empirical explorations of an evolutionary-developmental theory. Development & Psychopathology, 17, 303-328.

Ellis, B.J., & Bjorklund, D.F. (Eds.) (2005).   Origins of the social mind: Evolutionary psychology and child development.   New York: Guilford Press.

Campbell, L., & Ellis, B.J. (2005).  Love and commitment.  In D.M. Buss (Ed.), The Evolutionary Psychology handbook (pp. 419-442).  New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Bjorklund, D.F., & Ellis, B.J. (2005).  Evolutionary psychology and child development: An emerging synthesis. In B.J. Ellis & D.F. Bjorklund (Eds.), Origins of the social mind: Evolutionary psychology and child development (pp. 3-18).  New York: Guilford Press.

Ellis, B.J. (2005).  Individual differences in pubertal timing: An evolutionary-developmental approach.  In B.J. Ellis & D.F. Bjorklund (Eds.), Origins of the social mind: Evolutionary psychology and child development (pp. 164-188). New York: Guilford Press.

Ellis, B.J. (2004).  Timing of pubertal maturation in girls: An integrated life history approach.  Psychological Bulletin, 130, 920-958.

Ellis, B.J., Bates, J.E., Dodge, K.A., Fergusson, D.M., Horwood, J.L., Pettit, G.S., & Woodward, L. (2003).  Does father absence place daughters at special risk for early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy?  Child Development, 74, 801-821.

Keenan, T., & Ellis, B.J. (2003).  Children’s performance on a false belief task is impaired by activation of an evolutionarily-canalized response system.  Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 85, 236-256.

*Durrant, R., & Ellis, B.J. (2003). Evolutionary Psychology.  In M. Gallagher & R.J. Nelson (Eds.), Comprehensive handbook of psychology, Vol. 3: Biological psychology (pp. 1-33). New York: Wiley & Sons. 

Ellis, B.J., Simpson, J.A., & Campbell, L. (2002).  Trait-specific dependence in romantic relationships. Journal of Personality, 70, 611-659.

Ellis, B.J., &  Ketelaar, T.  (2002).  Clarifying the foundations of evolutionary psychology: A reply to Lloyd and Feldman.  Psychological Inquiry, 13, 157-164.

Ellis, B.J. (2002). Of Fathers and Pheromones: Implications of Cohabitation for Daughters' Pubertal Timing. In A. Booth & A.C. Crouter (Eds.), Just living together: Implications of cohabitation for children, families, and social policy (pp. 161-172).  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kirkpatrick, L. A., & Ellis, B.J.  (2001).  An evolutionary-psychological approach to self-esteem: Multiple domains and multiple functions.  In G. J. O. Fletcher & M. S. Clark (Eds.), Blackwell handbook of social psychology, Vol 2: Interpersonal processes (pp. 411–436).  Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers. 

Ellis, B.J., & Garber, J. (2000).  Psychosocial antecedents of variation in girls' pubertal timing: Maternal depression, stepfather presence, and marital and family stress.  Child Development, 71, 485-501.

Ellis, B.J., & Malamuth, N.M. (2000).  Love and anger in romantic relationships: A discrete systems model.  Journal of Personality, 68, 525-556.

Ketelaar, T., & Ellis, B.J. (2000).  Are evolutionary explanations unfalsifiable? Evolutionary psychology and the Lakatosian philosophy of science.  Psychological Inquiry, 11, 1-21.

Ellis, B.J., &  Ketelaar, T.  (2000).  On the natural selection of alternative models: Evaluation of explanations in Evolutionary Psychology.  Psychological Inquiry, 11, 56-68.

Ellis, B.J., McFadyen-Ketchum, S., Dodge, K.A., Pettit, G.A., & Bates, J.E. (1999). Quality of early family relationships and individual differences in the timing of pubertal maturation in girls: A longitudinal test of an evolutionary model.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 387-401.

Ellis, B.J. (1998).  The partner-specific investment inventory: An evolutionary approach to individual differences in investment. Journal of Personality, 66, 383-442.

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