In the study reported here, the main question we investigated was whether attention style could be a conditional adaptation. We organized participants of the TRacking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey (TRAILS; N = 2,230) into shifters, sustainers, and two comparison groups, depending on their performance on a shifting- and a sustained-attention task at age 11 years. Compared with sustainers, shifters reported more pre- and perinatal risk factors and more childhood stress, and they adopted a faster life-history strategy. These differences were not found between the comparison groups, who performed well or poorly on both tasks, which suggests that specialization for either sustained or shifting attention is the key to conditional adaptation. In a subsample (n = 860), we found that stress did not increase depression risk in shifters, whereas a mismatch between early and recent stress predicted depression in sustainers. Cumulative stress predicted depression in the comparison group. These results suggest that shifters retain high levels of plasticity throughout life, whereas sustainers' adapted their phenotype early in life to the expected mature environment.