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Chapter 13
Physical and Cognitive Development in Early Adulthood

Physical Development and the Senses

In many respects, physical development and maturation are complete at early adulthood.

SENESCENCE, or biological aging, has begun, but not obvious until later years.

Some growth still going on.

Some people gain height until their early 20s.

Brain continues to grow in size and weight until early adulthood.

The senses are as sharp as they will ever be.

Physical Fitness

Physical fitness has to be earned.

Benefit gained from physical exercise is significant.


Increases cardiovascular fitness.

Muscles become stronger, body more flexible, endurance increases.

Range of motion is greater, ligaments more elastic.

Immune system functioning maximized.

Longevity increases.


Health risks are slight during early adulthood.

But adults in 20s and 30s at higher risk from dying from accidents than most other causes, especially car accidents.

Other leading sources of death are AIDS, cancer, heart disease, suicide.

Lifestyle choices like drug and alcohol use and abuse, smoking, unprotected sex, can hasten secondary aging, physical declines brought about by environmental and individual factors.

Health, continued

A major cause of death for men in U.S. in early adulthood is violence.

Murder is most likely cause of death for young African Americans, and significant for Hispanic Americans, but only 5th most frequent cause of death for young adult white Americans.

African American male has 1 in 21 chance of being murdered in his lifetime.

White American male has 1 in 131 chance.


Eating, Nutrition, and Obesity

Most young adults know which foods are healthy, but ignore good nutrition.

Since physical growth is beginning to decline in this developmental period, young adults must reduce the calories they were used to during adolescence.

Eating, Nutrition, and Obesity, continued

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

12 percent of U.S. population between ages of 18 and 29 are obese, defined as body weight that is 20 percent or more above average weight for person of a given height.

The rate of obesity in the U.S. is increasing.

Physical Disabilities in Young Adulthood: Coping With Physical Challenge

Some 50+ million Americans are physically challenged – according to the definition of disability - a condition that substantially limits a major life activity such as walking or vision.

Adults with handicaps are often unemployed, or stuck in routine, low-paying jobs.

1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates full access to public establishments and accommodations in education and employment, but barriers remain.

Some nondisabled people focus so much on the disability that they overlook the person’s abilities.

Stress and Coping: Dealing with Life’s Challenges

STRESS is the physical and emotional response to events that threaten or challenge an individual.

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

PSYCHONEUROIMMUNOLOGY (PNI) is the study of the relationship between the brain, the immune system, and psychological factors that help explain stress outcomes.

The physiological stress response involves the release of hormones that cause a rise in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. Long-term stress can depress the immune system.

The Origins of Stress

According to psychologists Lazarus and Folk man, people move through a series of stages in the stress response.

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

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.


Overall Principles Predicting When an Event will be Stressful (Shelly Taylor, 1991)

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

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

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

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

The Consequences of Stress

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

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

Coping with Stress

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

Emotion-focused coping involves the conscious regulation of emotion.

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

Defensive coping involves unconscious strategies that distort or deny the true nature of the situation.

Cognitive Development

Physical development slows down during early adulthood, but does cognitive?

Piaget and others argued that by the time the teen years were finished, thinking stabilized

BUT increasing evidence suggests that this part of Piaget’s theory was incorrect.

Postformal Thought

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

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

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

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

William Perry’s Approach to Postformal Thinking

William Perry found that students entering college tended to use dualistic thinking in their views of the world.

As they encountered new ideas and points of view, their dualistic thinking declined.

They developed multiple thinking, assuming that their own opinion and that of experts mattered.

Students also entered a stage of relativistic thinking, in which they don’t see the world as having absolute standards and values but see these as culturally defined.

Intelligence: What Matters in Early Adulthood?

Robert Sternberg’s TRIARCHIC THEORY OF INTELLIGENCE says that intelligence made up of three components:

Componential – analyzing data to solve problems. This is what is assessed on "intelligence" tests.

Experiential – using prior experience to cope with new situations.

Contextual – meeting the demands of the everyday world.

Practical and Emotional Intelligence

IQ scores are related to academic success, but not to career success.

Sternberg contends that career success necessitated PRACTICAL INTELLIGENCE – able to handle new situations effective, read people and circumstances based on prior experience.

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE is a set of skills that involves the accurate assessment, evaluation, expression, and regulation of emotions, helping people to get along well with others and respond appropriately to others.

Life events & cognitive development

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.

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.

Applying postformal thought (Labouvie-Vief) allows them to deal more effectively with the complex social world.

College: Pursuing Higher Education

Like the population as a whole, college students are primarily white and middle class.

Minority student population is growing.

Higher education is important way to improve economic well-being.

More women than men attend college and number of women in college is increasing.

Among minority students, even a greater gender gap.

Men have other options – trades, physical jobs, military.

Women have been high school records.


The Changing College Student: Never Too Late to Go to College?

One-third of college students today are 25 years of age or older.

The average age of a community college student is 31.

A college degree is becoming increasingly important in obtaining a job.

Many employers require and encourage their workers to update their skills.


The Changing College Student, continued

According to Sherry Willis, adults return to college for several reasons.

To understand their own aging.

To keep up with rapid technological and cultural advances.

To combat obsolescence on the job.

To acquire new vocational skills.

As a means of broadening their intellectual skills.

College Adjustment: Reacting to the Demands of College Life

The FIRST-YEAR ADJUSTMENT REACTION is a group of psychological symptoms relating to the college experience.

Most likely to occur among students who were especially successful academically or socially in high school (sudden change in status often causes distress).

Surveys show that almost half of all college students have a least one significant psychological issue.

When should college students consider getting professional help with their problems?

Psychological distress that lingers and interferes with a person’s sense of well-being and ability to function.

Feelings that one is unable to cope effectively with the stress.

Hopelessness or depressed feelings.

The inability to build close relationships with others.

Physical symptoms that have no apparent underlying cause.

Gender & College Performance

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

Hostile sexism (overtly harmful treatment)

Benevolent sexism (a form of sexism in which women are placed in stereotyped & restrictive roles that may appear positive.

Complimenting a student on appearance.

Offering an easier research project so a student won’t have to work so hard.

Message may be that the woman is not taken seriously, and competence is undermined.

Differences exist in gender distribution in classes & attrition rates.

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

Women are more likely to drop out of math, engineering, and physical science classes.

Why do differences exist in gender distribution in classes & attrition rates?

The powerful influence of gender stereotypes.

Women are less likely to consider choosing these majors their 1st year of college (societal messages).

More likely to choose fields traditionally populated by women.

Different expectations regarding competence.

Gender differences reflect the powerful effect of gender stereotypes.

Women expect to earn less than men and in fact earn 76 cents for every dollar that men earn.

Women expect to do worse in some academic areas than men.

Stereotype threat hypothesis (expectation based on stereotype leads to outcomes)

Study by Spencer, Quinn & Steele (1997). Tough math test given. When the test portrayed as gender-neutral, no gender difference in results.

Dropping Out of College

Half of all students drop out of college. Why?

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

Academic difficulties.

College is expensive.

Some students need time off to mature.