Chapter 13


Physical and Cognitive Development in Early Adulthood




Chapter Outline


I.        Physical Development and Stress

A.     Physical Development and the Senses

1.      In most respects, physical development and maturation are complete by early adulthood.

2.      Most people are at the peak of their physical capabilities.

3.      Although SENESCENCE, the natural physical decline brought about by aging, has begun, these changes are not very obvious until later.

4.      Certain parts of the body do not fully mature until early adulthood.

5.      Brain wave patterns change in early adulthood.

6.      The senses are as sharp as they will ever be.

B.     Motor Functioning, Fitness, and Health:  Staying Well

1.      Most professional athletes are at their peak during early adulthood.

2.      No more than 10 percent of Americans exercise enough to keep themselves in good physical shape.

a)      Exercise is largely an upper- and middle-class phenomenon.

b)      There are many advantages to regular exercise.

(1)   increases cardiovascular fitness

(2)   lung capacity increases

(3)   muscles become stronger

(4)   body becomes more flexible and maneuverable

(5)   reduces osteoporosis, the thinning of bones, in later life

(6)   optimizes the immune response

(7)   decreases stress, anxiety, and depression

(8)   increases sense of control and feelings of accomplishment

(9)   increases longevity

c)      Young adults are less susceptible to colds and illnesses.

d)      The leading causes of death among young adults are:

(1)   accidents

(2)   AIDS

(3)   cancer

(4)   heart disease

(5)   suicide

e)      Lifestyle choices – use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs or engaging in unprotected sex, can hasten secondary aging, physical declines brought about by environmental factors or individual choices.

f)       Men are more apt to die from accidents than women, and African Americans have twice the death rate of Caucasians.

g)      The murder rate in the U.S. is significantly higher than in any other developed country.

(1)   Murder is the fifth most frequent cause of death for young white Americans.

(2)   Murder is the most frequent cause of death for African Americans.

3.      Developmental Diversity:  How Cultural Health Beliefs Influence Use of Health Care

a)      Cultural health beliefs, along with demographic and psychological factors, reduce people’s use of physicians and medical care.

(1)   Punishment from God

(2)   Lack of faith

(3)   A hex

b)      To ensure that everyone receives adequate health care, cultural health beliefs must be taken into account.

C.     Eating, Nutrition, and Obesity:  A Weighty Concern

1.      Young adults will put on weight if they do not eat sensibly.

2.      31 percent of the adult population is classified as overweight.

a)      7 percent of men and 10 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 25 are obese – defined as a body weight that is 20 percent or more above the average weight for a person of a given height.

b)      From 1998 to 1999, obesity increased 6 percent.

D.     Physical Disabilities:  Coping with Physical Challenges

1.      Some 43 million Americans are physically challenged — or disabled — a condition that substantially limits a major life activity such as walking or vision.

2.      Fewer than 10 percent of people with major handicaps have finished high school.

3.      Fewer than 25 percent of disabled men and 15 percent of disabled women work full time.

4.      Despite the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), many older buildings are inaccessible to wheelchairs.

5.      Prejudice and discrimination affect the way disabled people think of themselves.

E.      Stress and Coping:  Dealing with Life’s Challenges

1.      STRESS is the response to events that threaten or challenge an individual.

2.      Our lives are filled with events and circumstances known as stressors, that cause threats to our well-being.

a)      Stressors can be both pleasant events and unpleasant events.

b)      Long-term, continuous exposure to stressors may result in a reduction of the body's ability to deal with stress.

3.      Researchers in the new field of PSYCHONEUROIMMUNOLOGY (PNI), the study of the relationship among the brain, the immune system, and psychological factors, have found that stress produces several outcomes.

a)      Hormones from the adrenal glands cause a rise in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration and sweating.

b)      People become more susceptible to diseases as their ability to fight off germs declines.

4.      According to Lazarus and Folkman, people move through a series of stages that determine whether they will experience stress.

a)      PRIMARY APPRAISAL is the assessment of an event to determine whether its implications are positive, negative, or neutral

b)      SECONDARY APPRAISAL is the assessment of whether one’s coping abilities and resources are adequate to overcome the harm, threat, or challenge posed by the potential stressor.

c)      Events and circumstances that produce negative emotions are more likely to produce stress.

d)      Situations that are uncontrollable or unpredictable are more likely to produce stress.

e)      Events and circumstances that are ambiguous and confusing produce more stress.

f)       People who must accomplish simultaneously many tasks are more likely to experience stress.

5.      Stress may lead to PSYCHOSOMATIC DISORDERS, medical problems caused by the interaction of psychological, emotional, and physical difficulties.

6.      Some young adults are better than others at COPING, the effort to reduce, or tolerate the threats that lead to stress.

a)      Problem-focused coping is the attempt to manage a stressful problem or situation by directly changing the situation to make it less stressful.

b)      Emotion-focused coping involves the conscious regulation of emotion.

c)      Coping is also aided by the presence of social support, assistance and comfort supplied by others.

d)      Defense coping involves unconscious strategies that distort or deny the true nature of the situation.

II.                 Cognitive Development

A.     Developmentalist Giesela Labouvie-Vief suggests that the nature of thinking changes qualitatively during early adulthood.

1.      Adults exhibit POSTFORMAL THOUGHT, thinking that goes beyond Piaget's formal operations.

a)      Adult predicaments are sometimes solved by relativistic thinking rather than pure logic.

b)      Postformal thought also encompasses dialectical thinking, an interest in and appreciation for argument, counter-argument, and debate.

c)      Postformal thought acknowledges that the world sometimes lacks purely right and wrong solutions and adults must draw upon prior experiences to solve problems.

B.     K. Warner Schaie suggests that adults' thinking follows a set pattern of stages.

1.      The ACQUISITIVE STAGE encompasses all of childhood and adolescence, and the main developmental task is to acquire information.

2.      The ACHIEVING STAGE is the point reached by young adults in which intelligence is applied to specific situations involving the attainment of long-term goals regarding careers, family, and societal contributions.

3.      The RESPONSIBLE STAGE is the stage where the major concerns of middle-aged adults relate to their personal situations, including protecting and nourishing their spouses, families, and careers.

4.      The EXECUTIVE STAGE is the period in middle adulthood when people take a broader perspective than earlier, including concerns about the world.

5.      The REINTEGRATIVE STAGE is the period of late adulthood during which the focus is on tasks that have personal meaning.

C.     Robert Sternberg, in his TRIARCHIC THEORY OF INTELLIGENCE suggests that intelligence is made up of three major components.

1.      Componential intelligence relates to the mental components involved in analyzing data, and in solving problems, especially problems involving rational behavior.

2.      Experiential intelligence refers to the relationship between intelligence, people's prior experience, and their ability to cope with new situations.

3.      Contextual intelligence involves the degree of success people demonstrate in facing the demands of their everyday, real-world environments.

a)      Sternberg contends that success in a career necessitates this type of intelligence, also called PRACTICAL INTELLIGENCE, intelligence that is learned primarily by observing others and modeling their behavior.

D.     Another type of intelligence involves EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE, the set of skills that underlie the accurate assessment, evaluation, expression, and regulation of emotions.

1.      Emotional intelligence allows us to get along well with others, to understand what others are feeling and experiencing, and to respond appropriately.

E.      CREATIVITY, combining responses or ideas in creative ways, is at its peak for many individuals during early adulthood.

1.      People in early adulthood may be at the peak of their creativity because many of the problems they encounter on a professional level are novel.

a)      Creative people are willing to take risks.

b)      Creative people develop and endorse ideas that are unfashionable or regarded as "wrong."

2.      Not all people reach their creative peak in early adulthood.

F.      Life Events and Cognitive Development

1.      Some research suggests that major life events, such as marriage, birth of a child, starting a first job, having a child, buying a house, may lead to cognitive growth.

2.      The ups and downs of life events may lead young adults to think about the world in novel, more complex, sophisticated, and often less rigid ways.

3.      Applying postformal thought allows them to deal more effectively with the complex social world.

III.               College:  Pursuing Higher Education

A.     College students are primarily white and middle class.

B.     Minority students are an increasingly larger proportion of the college population.

C.     There are now more women than men enrolled in college, and by the year 2007, women’s enrollment is expected to increase 30 percent from 1995 compared to an increase of only 13 percent for men.

D.     A college degree is important for obtaining a job, for learning new skills, and for the joy of intellectual stimulation.

E.      Many students experience difficulties adjusting to their first year of college – FIRST-YEAR ADJUSTMENT REACTION, a cluster of psychological symptoms, including loneliness, anxiety, withdrawal, and depression.

F.      William Perry examined the way students grew intellectually and morally during college.

1.      Students entering college tended to use dualistic thinking – something is right or wrong, good or bad, others are for them or against them.

2.      As they encountered new ideas and points of view, they began to hold multiple perspectives on an issue – multiple thinking.

3.      Finally, they began to show relativistic thinking, rather than believing that there are absolute standards and values, they begin to see that different cultures, societies, and individuals can have different standards and values, all of them equally valid.

G.     Prejudice and discrimination directed at women is still a fact of college life.

1.      Classes in education and the social sciences have larger proportions of women than men.

2.      Classes in engineering, the physical sciences, and mathematics tend to have more men than women.

3.      Women earn just 22 percent of the bachelor degrees in science and 13 percent of the doctorates.

4.      Gender differences reflect the powerful effect of gender stereotypes.

a)      Women expect to earn less than men and in fact earn 72 cents for every dollar that men earn.

b)      Minority women earn 62 cents for every dollar men make and Hispanic women earn 54 cents to a male’s dollar.

c)      Men, compared to women, are more apt to view themselves as above average on several spheres relevant to academic success.

d)      Teachers call on men more often and make more eye contact with them.

e)      Males receive more extra help and more positive reinforcement for their comments than women do.

f)       Benevolent sexism – where women are placed in stereotyped and restrictive roles, is just as harmful as hostile sexism, overtly harmful behavior towards women.

H.     Psychologist Claude Steele found that the reason both women and African Americans perform less well in college is academic disidentificationa lack of personal identification with an academic domain.

1.      Women disidentify with math and science.

2.      African Americans disidentify across academic domains.

3.      Both are called stereotype threat – in which members of a group fear their behavior will confirm stereotypes.

I.        Half of all students drop out of college.

1.      College is expensive.

2.      Marriage, children, or death of parent requires students to drop out.

3.      Academic difficulties

4.      Some students need time off to mature.

Key Terms and Concepts





Primary appraisal

Secondary appraisal

Psychosomatic disorders


Postformal thought

Acquisitive stage

Achieving stage

Responsible stage

Executive stage

Reintegrative stage

Triarchic theory of intelligence

Practical intelligence

Emotional intelligence


First-year adjustment reaction