Changes from Adolescence through Adulthood

For each of three developmental domains: physical, cognitive, and social/personality, identify two major changes or challenges associated with that developmental stage (adolescence, young adulthood, middle adulthood, and late adulthood).

Adolescent Development

Physical Development: 1) Puberty is the appearance of secondary sex characteristics such as body hair, deepening of the voice in males, and rounding of the breasts and hips in females. 2) During adolescence, the female and male sex organs mature and become capable of reproduction. This maturity is believed to be reached in women about a year after menarche and in men about a year after the ability to ejaculate.

Cognitive Development: 1) The formal operational stage is the ability to think hypothetically and can lead to egocentrism during adolescence. 2) The personal fable is the belief that our feelings are unique, which leads to showy behavior.

Social/Personality Development: 1) Ego identity is when an adolescent becomes an individual person, much like self-identity that we studied last week. If someone does not develop a firm sense of identity they could enter role diffusion which is characterized by shifting beliefs. 2) During adolescence, the quest for independence can tax parent-child relationships. The adolescent is becoming an individual and at the same time figuring out how that individuality fits into their current family unit.

Young Adult Development

Physical Development: 1) It is during young adulthood that we reach our peak. Most professional athletes end their careers during young adulthood because their coordination and endurance start declining as they enter middle adulthood. 2) Sensory sharpness also peaks during the young adult stage of development. That means that as far as hearing and eyesight go it is downhill from there.

Cognitive Development: 1) We also reach our cognitive peak during young adulthood. Even though the cognitive function may decline later on in the young adult stage it is replaced by experience. 2) Crystallized intelligence is the sum total of knowledge accumulated in a lifetime. This kind of knowledge brings wisdom, foresight, and experience. Fluid intelligence is the ability to process information quickly. When the usual solutions to a problem do not work fluid intelligence can innovate a solution.

Social/Personality Development: 1) The trying twenties are characterized by a drive towards “the dream”. This is the period of life when we tend to want to “become someone” and strive for establishment. 2) Individuation in women is characterized by going from being cared for to caring for others; likewise, men go from being controlled to controlling.

Middle Adult Development

Physical Development: 1) Menopause (or for men menopause) is characterized by dropping off of sexual hormones which can lead to many adjustment issues. In women, menopause is accompanied by loss of bone density and the ability to reproduce. In men, menopause can bring on irritability and loss of virility. 2) It is during middle adulthood that many people start to develop their full physical capabilities. The 20-year-old couch potato may become a marathoner.

Cognitive Development: 1) For men, the midlife transition entails a realization of the reality that they might not have fulfilled all of their childhood dreams and that there is less time in front of them than there was behind them. Research shows that women may undergo a midlife transition many years earlier than men. Women’s transition includes the winding down of their biological clock. 2) Sometimes the midlife transition can turn into a midlife crisis if we are not prepared to adapt properly. In that case, a midlife transition can lead to depression or an extra-marital relationship.

Social/Personality Development: 1) During middle adulthood, we face the choice between stagnation and generativity. Stagnation is when someone just maintains the status quo and gets along in life. Generativity is when someone during middle adulthood is in the active pursuit of productive activities such as child development or the betterment of society as a whole. 2) The empty nest syndrome does occur but only paints half of the story. After children “leave the nest” many women report a more productive marital life and greater stability.

Late Adult Development

Physical Development: 1) As we get older our immune system operates less effectively. This can lead to an increased vulnerability to disease and sickness. 2) During late adulthood our metabolism changes and as a consequence we lose some of our muscle mass which is replace by fat. Regular exercise though can offset this change by increasing the size of the muscle cells that remain.

Cognitive Development: 1) Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by a loss of brain function including memory, motor function, and language skills. The disease works by killing brain cells in key areas of the brain. 2) According to some studies, regular memory loss associated with old age is more due to less cognitive reinforcement than deterioration in brain function. As with some of the other challenges of old age these can be fixed through cognitive exercises such as memory exercises.

Social/Personality Development: 1) Late adulthood is faced with the challenge of ego integrity versus despair. At this stage of life, it is important to maintain an overall purpose or drive while at the same time seeing that purpose in the context of a finite lifespan. 2) The stereotype that most senior citizens live on welfare and at the mercy of children is not supported by available data. In fact, a great majority of those in late adulthood own their own home.


Nevid, J.S., Rathus, S.A. (2005). Psychology and the challenges of life: Adjustment in the new millennium. Danvers, M.A.: Wiley.


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