Sunday, 21 October 2007

Early and Middle Adulthood

Early and Middle Adulthood

· Freud described personality as being almost fixed by about the age of five at the end of the phallic stage.
o The genital stage of personality development marked the beginning of adulthood after puberty.
· Few people accept this view now.
o Piaget claimed that adult cognitive maturity was reached when people reached formal Operational Cognitive Processing during the teenage years.

We will now note the methodological problems encountered when studying ageing and describe and evaluate three of the major theoretical explanations’ for changes during early and middle adulthood

Adulthood, ageing and methodological issues

Other than Chronological Age (CA) there are other possibly more useful definitions of age. These include:
Biological Age – internal organs and tissues;
Psychological Age – changes in perceptions of oneself and others;
Social Age – which is our changing relationship to society e.g. promotion, retirement etc.

Two research designs are used to study adulthood and ageing.
A “Longitudinal” design studies a group of people over a period of time to see the effects of aging and new experiences on psychological development, behaviour change and so on.
· Here participants do not need to be ‘matched’ with another group;
· Here participants can be lost through death, emigration, moving home and becoming generally untraceable, or not wanting to take part etc.;
A “Cross sectional” design takes several groups of people and studies them all at a particular time.
· Time changes and influences on our lives change with them. Each generation (Called a Cohort) will be different. A Cohort occupies a specific / unique historical niche.
· Cohort-sequential design, time sequential design and cross-sequential design are three other research designs that are particularly useful in studying age-related changes. Each allows comparisons to be made that help to identify particular effects such as the effect of age or of being in a particular cohort.

Example of cohort = someone sharing the effects of the impact of advances in communication and information technology.

Theories about early and middle adulthood.
We will now examine three theories of development about this period of life.

Erikson’s “Eight ages of man” – Erikson (1980)
· Developed over several decades;
· Developed from general psychiatric observations;
· Not derived from specific research methods from within a particular research design.

· Essential difference to Freud’s approach is that Erikson saw personality as a development throughout life, rather than being fixed from childhood.
· He identified five stages that occurred during childhood, he saw three more as occurring after the age of about twenty.
· Each stage is characterised by a challenge to be faced e.g. adolescence is the challenge of which role we are to play throughout life, and reach an understanding of ones own identity.
· He also saw development due to social forces shaping ones personality rather than sexual ones. Hence his theory is known as a psychosexual one.
· Erikson’ theory is more flexible than Feud’s in that he saw greater possibility for change.

Stages of development:
· Saw by Erikson as eight invariable stages;
· Rather like sensitive periods, in that certain aspects of personality development are best dealt with at particular stages in life.
· Each stage which is age related represents the individual with a specific psychosocial ‘crisis’ to be worked through. This means that the individual faces and must resolve a series of psychological conflicts relating to their interactions with others in increasingly wider social settings.

Erikson’s (1980) Psychosocial stages of personality development.

Approximate age
Quality to be developed
Social Focus
0 to 1 years
Basic Trust Vs. Mistrust
Maternal Person
(An Optimistic trust that the world will meet ones needs)
2 to 3 years
(Early Childhood)
Autonomy Vs. Shame and doubt
Parental Persons
Will (The ability to exercise self-restraint and choice)
4 to 5 years
(Play Age)
Initiative Vs. Guilt
Basic Family
Purpose (A sense of goal-directedness)
6 to 12 years
(School Age)
Industry Vs. Inferiority
Neighbourhood, School
(Sense of confidence in ones own ability)
13 to 18 years
Identity Vs. Role Confusion
Peer Groups
(The Ability freely to pledge loyalty to others)
19 to 25 years
Intimacy Vs. Isolation
(Romantic & Erotic and including the ability to commit oneself to others and maintain the commitment through degrees of compromise and self denial)
26 to 40 years
Generativity Vs. Stagnation
The Household
( A sense of certain things in life have meaning and importance leading to one to be productive in life)
41 years +
Ego integrity Vs. Despair
(A Sense that life has been worthwhile, arrived at by integrating the outcomes of previous stages)
Evaluation or Erikson’s theory:

Development as a lifelong process:
Erikson was very influential in establishing the lifespan approach to human development.
Theory emphasised how development is a lifelong process rather than something that largely terminates in adolescence (Freud).

High face validity:
On the face of it, allows for shared experiences at common ages to shape and establish personality development. Therefore this appeals to Western and Capitalist etc countries.

The importance of social influences:
Shows the importance of social influences in personality development.

Difficulty of testing the theory:
There are some problems with the testing of a theory such as Erikson’s.
We would have to depend of extensive self report, clinical interviews and questionnaires with all associated problems.
In addition many of Erikson’s ideas are difficult to put into a testable form. These problems may mean that there is a lack of sound empirical evidence for the theory.

Relevance to contemporary life styles:
Three adult life goals exist:
Ego integrity.
These three may not be achieved at the same time.
Many people may occupy a historical niche at a time.

Daniel Levinson’s “Seasons of a man’s life”
· Developed from survey research amongst a small number of largely white, middle class, professional males.
o Therefore, be cautious when considering generalizing findings.

· Levinson (1978) saw relationships and work as central to the adult life structure, by which he means the alternating pattern of stability and change that many lives pass through.
o Levinson divided (Male) adult life into ‘seasons’, when different kinds of stability and change are occurring.
o Following changes associated with the transition into adulthood , the period from early 20s to about 40 is described as a ‘season’.
o Between 40 and 45 is the transition into late adulthood, the supposed ‘mid life crisis’.
o The final season occurs after the transition to late adulthood – after 65 approx.

· Levinson claimed the period between 40 and 45 was often characterised by a ‘mid life crisis’ and this theme has been used in popular media to explain why men of this age may dress to appear younger than they are or use words that are used by younger people (Often to the embarrassment of the younger people concerned).
· “…It is not possible to get through middle adulthood without having at least a moderate crisis either in mid life or age 50 transition.” They even regard this crisis as desirable.

N.B. Note the ages at which the transitions occur for the exam.

Evaluation: Levinson’s work:

Lack of quantitative data:
Few data to support the ideas of Levinson because the information collected was in the form of clinical interview reports. Some would see this as a strength because of the richness of the qualitative data. Others regard this as a weakness.
Limited Sample Size:
Most interviews had not reached age 45, only 15 participants after age 45.
A Narrow Sample:
The original sample studied by Levinson was limited in age and occupational background as well as being all male.
Importance of the socio-cultural and historical setting when describing adult development:
This was largely ignored by earlier theorists.

Roger Gould’s “Evolution of Adult Consciousness.”
· Gould’s Psychiatric background led him to organise a cross-sectional survey of ‘524 white, middle class 16-50 year olds.
· Gould (1978) proposed a stage theory that reflects a concern with mental health. It follows a Freudian idea that adults must break away from the concerns of childhood and parental control, and then recover from a sense of separation anxiety.
· He claimed that holding, and eventually discarding, several false assumptions about our role influence our adulthood personality. One false assumption is the illusion that our parents will keep us absolutely safe.
· Holding false assumptions gives us a false sense of security. Rejecting them cause’s anxiety.

We should have evolved a realistic view of our own consciousness during adulthood, abandoning any false assumptions by the time we are in our fifties.
We should have realised that we are in charge of our own destiny and that other people are not responsible for us and our actions.

Evaluation: Gould’s Theory:

Restricted sample:
· Theory is based on taped patient interviews from only eight medical students.
· These were used as the basis for a questionnaire – validity concerns exist.
· 524 questionnaire respondents were white, middle class adults, which tells us little about other adult groups.
· Cannot be considered a universal theory of adult development.
Lack of reliability:
· No attempts more to assess the reliability of the questionnaire.
· Reliability is a fundamental requirement in psychological questionnaires as it demonstrates that a particular measure will measure something consistently. A lack of reliability means that such consistency can only be assumed.
Life after 60:
· Detail about life after 60 is sketchy; this is hardly surprising given the age range of Gould’s questionnaire respondents’ (Medical students and 16 to 50 year old respondents.)


· The three theories broadly agree that there are identifiable themes that occur in adulthood — including establishing one’s own identity, forming fulfilling relationships, finding intimacy, reproducing, and finding a meaning for life.

· They agree that adulthood can be divided into phases or stages where particular influences or activities are occurring that are notably different from the influences and activities in other stages.

· They also agree that adulthood is characterised by crises or challenges that have to be resolved for healthy personality development to continue. In this they reflect Freudian ideas from over half a century earlier.


· The methods that each theorist employed to gather the data from which the theories were developed were unsound and unlikely to yield scientifically acceptable, or testable explanations.

· The emphasis on crisis and challenge ignored the fact that, for many people, adulthood is a time of pleasure and enjoyment, whilst others are simply too busy getting on with life to reflect on the crises and challenges others say they are facing.

· Very small samples were used from which to generate such all-encompassing explanations for adulthood.

· The theories can’t account for wide individual variation between adult
· experiences. One person’s daily routine is another person’s major challenge.

· They can also be criticised for ethnocentricity (reflecting only one culture’s experiences) and androcentricity (concerned with only male experiences).

· One further problem is that these theories have no ‘predictive validity’. They don’t state what happens if someone doesn’t deal with a challenge or is overcome by a crisis. Freud talked about adult neuroses, psychoses and personality disorders resulting from repression of traumatic experiences. These theories explain what is happening to form adult personality, and how important it is that challenges and crises must be resolved, but don’t indicate how we can know whether someone has resolved their supposed crises or not.

Evaluation: Stage Theories of adult development:

· Research methods:
In each case there are some doubts about the soundness of the research on which the ideas are based, particularly with regard to the number and type of participants used and the methods of data collection.
· Emphasis on crisis:
Some critics think there is a rather negative overemphasis on crisis, particularly in midlife and that this could be because of the nature of the cohorts used.
· Generalizability:
We cannot be sure how well the three approaches apply to different individuals, societies and cohorts.
Possible variation within these is well worth further investigation. Future research needs to take into account the impact of sociocultural, socioeconomic and gender differences on the development and life experiences of adults.
· Other age-related changes:
We must also remember that the changes described in these theories go on against a background of many other age related changes (E.g. physiological and cognitive / intellectual) that individuals have to cope with at the same time.
· Life stages or life events?:
Some researchers think that there is little convincing evidence for stages in adult development and prefer instead to focus on specific life events that affect many adults and which could be considered critical.

References of note:

Erikson (1980) - “Eight ages of man” Psychosocial
stages of personality development.

Gould (1978) - Proposed a stage theory that reflects
a concern with mental health. It follows a Freudian idea that adults must break away from the concerns of childhood and parental control, and then recover from a sense of separation anxiety.

Levinson (1978) - Saw relationships and work as
central to the adult life structure, by which he means the alternating pattern of stability and change that many lives pass through.
Concepts to note:

Define these terms:

· Age:
o Chronological Age;
o Biological Age;
o Psychological Age;
o Social Age.
· Cross sectional Design
· Longitudinal Design
· Cohort
· Cohort –Sequential Design
· Cross-sequential design
· Time Sequential Design

What do they say or do?

· Erikson
· Gould
· Levinson

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