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Chapter 04 - Adolescence and Adulthood


  • Adolescence: transition period from childhood to adulthood, extending from puberty to independence
  • Due to improved nutrition, sexual maturation occurs earlier nowadays
  • Psychologists note that adolescence is often marked by mood swings
  • Begins with puberty: period of sexual maturation, during which one first becomes capable of reproducing; 2-year period of rapid development usually beginning in girls at age 11 and in boys at age 13
  • Primary sex characteristics: body structures (ovaries, testes, and external genitalia) that make sexual reproduction possible
  • Secondary sex characteristics: nonreproductive sexual characteristics –female breasts and hips, male voice quality and body hair
  • Landmarks of puberty for boys are first ejaculation at about 14 and first menstrual period for girls at about 13
  • Menarche: first menstrual period
  • Although variation in the timing of growth spurt has little effect in height, there are psychological consequences
  • Early maturation is good for boys –stronger, more athletic, and tend to be more popular, self-assured, and independent
  • Early maturation for girls is stressful; but later when peers catch up, helps enjoy greater prestige and self-confidence
  • Reasoning is often self-focused –may believe private experiences are unique and no one understands the feelings

Kohlberg’s Moral Ladder

1.    Preconventional morality (before age 9)

  • Obey to either avoid punishment or to gain concrete rewards;  If you don’t feed the dog, he will die;  If you do the dishes, you can have desert

2.    Conventional morality (by early adolescence)

  • Morality evolves to a more conventional level that upholds laws simply because they are laws and rules; since able to see others’ perspectives, follow actions that gain social approval or maintain social order;  if you steal, everyone would think you are a thief

3.    Postconventional morality

  • Those who develop abstract reasoning of formal operational thought; follow what affirms people’s rights or what one personally perceives as basic ethical principles;  if you steal the drugs, you would not have lived up to your own ideal;  Robin Hood is a hero because he stole from the rich for the poor
  • As our thinking matures, our behavior becomes less selfish and more caring
  • To refine sense of identity, adolescents in western cultures try out different “selves”
  • Different selves gradually reshape to form identity: one’s sense of self; according to Erikson, the adolescent’s task is to solidify a sense of self by testing and integrating various roles
  • Identity searching continues past teen years; as it becomes clearer, self-esteem increases
  • Erikson contended that after identity stage is developing capacity for intimacy: ability to form close, loving relationships; primary developmental task in late adolescence and early adulthood
  • As identity is formed, separation from parents occur



  • Physical abilities peak in early adulthood; world-class sprinters and swimmers peak in their teens or early twenties; but decline of abilities not noticed till later in life
  • Women, because of early maturation, peak earlier than men
  • Foremost biological sign of aging in women is menopause: time of natural cessation of menstruation; refers to biological changes a women experiences as ability to reproduce declines
  • Menopause does not usually create psychological problems for women
  • Women’s expectations and attitudes regarding menopause influence its emotional impact
  • Men experience decline in sperm count, testosterone level, and speed of erection and ejaculation
  • With age, eye’s pupil shrinks and lens becomes less transparent –reducing light reaching retina
  • Disease-fighting immune system weakens –more susceptible to life-threatening disease; but due to  lifetime collection of antibodies, less suffering of short-term ailments
  • Since early adulthood, small, gradual loss of brain cells, but can be compensated by active growth of neural connections in people who remain active
  • Some do suffer brain ailment such as Alzheimer’s disease: progressive and irreversible brain disorder characterized by gradual deterioration of memory, reasoning, language, and physical functions; deterioration of neurons that produce neurotransmitter acetylcholine
  • Hard for older people to recall meaningless info, but if it is meaningful, their rich web of existing knowledge helps them catch it
  • Cross-sectional study: study in which people of different ages are compared with one another;  cross the age groups
  • Show that younger people do better than older ones
  • Longitudinal study: research in which same people are restudied and retested over long period;  a group of people for a long time
  • Show that until late in life, intelligence remains stable
  • Found that because cross-sectional use people of different eras, other variables may skew the results; but longitudinal may be at fault as those who survive the end of test may be the healthiest, smartest
  • Conclude that whether intelligence increases/decreases depends on type of intellectual preformance measured
  • Crystallized intelligence: one’s accumulated knowledge and verbal skills;  tends to increase with age;  As time passes, “hardens” = stronger (increases with time)
  • Fluid Intelligence: one’s ability to reason speedily and abstractly;  tends to decrease with age
  • Types of intelligence explain why mathematicians and scientists produce creative work in early adulthood while those in literature produce best work in late adulthood
  • Social clock: culturally preferred timing of social events such as marriage, parenthood, and retirement
  • 2 basic aspects of lives dominate adulthood: intimacy (forming close relationships) and generativity (being productive and supporting future generations)
  • Children are the most enduring of life changes
  • When children leave home, the empty nest is for most people a happy place and they report greater happiness and enjoyment of marriage
  • People of all ages report similar levels of happiness and satisfaction with life; teenagers have quick changing range of moods while adults have less extreme, but more enduring moods

Death and Dying

  • Elisabeth Kubler-Ross proposed that terminally ill pass through 5 stages (Dabda):
  • Denial; unacceptance of ill
  • Anger or resentment;  Why me?
  • Bargaining;  with God
  • Depression;  loss of everything and everyone
  • Acceptance; peaceful, accepting one’s fate


Myers, David G., Psychology Fifth Edition. Worth Publishers, Inc. New York, NY ©1998

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