1999 by Mary Bold

Cognitive Functioning in Early Adulthood

cognitive growth Gilligan marrying ages Schaie
crystallized intelligence Gould Perry Steele
Erikson intelligence Pert Sternberg
fluid intelligence Kohlberg postformal thought triangular theory of love
Flynn Effect Labouvie-Vief practical intelligence triarchic theory of intelligence
frontal lobes Levinson Reigel WAIS
Gardner Marcia Reinke Wechsler



cognitive growth changes in thinking, typically described as being increasingly efficient, creative, or complex; in adulthood, growth may be promoted by major life events (such as entry into a new career or the birth of a child) or by brain growth (such as the development of the frontal lobe) or, perhaps, by interaction of nature and nurture

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crystallized intelligence verbal reasoning that holds across the lifespan; reflects accumulated knowledge and vocabulary; allows best works at age of 40s, 50s, and older by historians, philosophers, prose writers

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Erikson Erik Erikson; Psychoanalyst; 1902-1990; eight universal stages describe human development across the life span; each stage consists of crisis and resolution, with resolution necessary for advancement to the next stage
  • Stages:
  • trust vs mistrust
  • autonomy vs doubt
  • initiative vs guilt
  • industry/competence vs inferiority
  • identity vs role confusion
  • intimacy vs isolation
  • generativity vs stagnation
  • ego-integrity despair

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fluid intelligence fast and abstract reasoning; in adults, there is a decline with age; includes  nonverbal abilities, nonverbal puzzle solving, novel logic problems; allows best works at age of 20s and 30s by mathematicians, scientists, and poets

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Flynn Effect named for New Zealand researcher James Flynn, the phenomenon of rising intelligence scores across 20 countries over the course of the 20th century

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frontal lobes portions of the cerebral cortex of the brain; located behind the forehead; center for judgment, planning; also concerned with speaking and moving muscles

final development of the frontal lobes occurs in the 20s

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Gardner Howard Gardner; his Multiple Intelligences theory broadens what we can consider intelligence; recent writing has included biographies of great minds, creative minds

7 Intelligences:

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Gilligan Carol Gilligan; Harvard Univ.; created an alternative model to Kohlberg’s stages of moral reasoning

Women’s moral reasoning based on connectedness to others:

Stage #1 — moral = do what’s right for me

Stage #2 — moral = do what’s right for others (which may require self-sacrifice by woman)

Stage #3 — moral = nonviolence (to all), which means that self-sacrifice is immoral

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Gould Roger Gould, psychologist; in 1975 and 1978, published stages of adult personality (outlined below); his work also considers how people perceive time at different stages; more recent work has been in computer-based brief psychotherapy

Stages of Adult Personality

Age 16 - 22: Leaving my parents’ world. Answers the childhood assumption that “I’ll always live with my parents.”

Age 22 - 28: I’m nobody’s baby, now. Answers the false assumption that “doing things my parents’ way, with willpower and perseverance, will bring results.”

Age 28 - 34: Opening up to what’s inside. Answers the false assumption that “life is simple and controllable; I have no contradictory forces within me.”

Age 34 - 45: Midlife decade. Answers the false assumption that there is no death, no evil.

Age 45 and older: Beyond mid-life. No false assumptions to be answered. Appreciate what you have; focus on what you’ve accomplished.

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intelligence capacity for goal-directed adaptive behavior; defined in 1982 by Robert Sternberg and William Salter

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Lawrence Kohlberg; theorist who built on Piaget’s conclusion that moral judgments are dependent on children’s cognitive development

Criticized as being oriented toward men’s moral reasoning, especially by his graduate student Carol Gilligan; Kohlberg said women were typically stuck at stage 2 or 3 (see stages below)

Cross-cultural tests of his theory have shown the earlier stages (relating to children) to be accurate, but the later stages reflect American or European males and may be limited only to men of an intellectual, liberal bent

6 stages in 3 levels of moral reasoning; moral thinking progresses sequentially from concrete to abstract

Kohlberg’s Stages:

Preconventional morality
1 - Obey/Punish
2 - Act for personal rewards

Conventional morality
3 - Good girl/boy
4 - Authority/social order

Postconventional morality
5 - Social contract
6 - Universal ethic (individual)

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Labouvie-Vief Giesela Labouvie-Vief, developmentalist; adult thinking must be flexible and adaptive in order to cope in a complex, specialized society; key words: postformal thought, no right or wrong answers

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Levinson Daniel Levinson; studied men first, and then women; outline of development is based on equilibrium/disequilibrium periods during which a man builds/questions his life structure; the stable and transition periods alternate
or Building
Period Age Tasks


Early adult transition 17 - 22 Step out; explore


Enter adult world 22 - 28 Start family; pursue a dream


Age 30 transition 28 - 30 See flaws; re-evaluate


Settle down 33 - 40 Concentrate on family, community; strive to achieve dream


Midlife transition 40 - 45 Questioning; maybe a crisis


Enter middle adulthood 45 - 50 Create a new life structure, maybe w/ new job; explore recreation, grad school, etc.


Age 50 transition 50 - 55 Re-evaluate; crisis possible, especially if none during the midlife transition


Culmination of middle adulthood 55 - 60 Satisfying era (similar to earlier Settle down stage) if man has adjusted to role changes


Late adult transition 60 - 65 Prepare for retirement and coming physical decline; major turning point


Late adulthood 65 + Create new life structure for retirement and aging

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Marcia James Marcia; doctoral research on identity statuses drew from Erik Erickson’s psychosocial stage of identity vs isolation; Marcia’s research conducted in the early 1960s utilized a sample of college males

Marcia’s identity statuses can be described by their levels of exploration and commitment; the young person experiences a crisis of identity that is, typically, resolved following confusion or exploration

High Commitment Low Commitment
High Exploration



Low Exploration



identity achievement—adolescent confusion ends with commitment to a career path and/or a moral code; the crisis is resolved

identity foreclosure—adolescent does not explore and does not suffer any crisis; someone else (typically, parents) selects the youth’s career path or makes other substantial decisions; initially, this young person may appear to be happy, cooperative, “no trouble”; a price may be paid later, in adulthood

identity moratorium—exploration extends into the young person’s 20s, or even 30s; commitment is finally made, just much later than the norm

identity diffusion—things never come together for this person

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marrying ages 1890 - Median age at first marriage was 22.0 for women and 26.1 for men

1910 - Median age at first marriage was 21.6 for women and 25.1 for men

1930 - Median age at first marriage was 21.3 for women and 24.3 for men

1950 - Median age at first marriage was 20.3 for women and 22.8 for men

1970 - Median age at first marriage was 21.8 for women and 23.6 for men

1994 - Median age at first marriage was 24.5 for women and 26.7 for men

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Perry William Perry; psychologist; his work from the 1970s indicated that college students, over the course of their studies, shift from dualistic thinking (a perspective is either right or wrong) to multiple thinking (multiple perspectives are possible) to relativistic thinking (multiple perspectives can be simultaneously valid); at end of college career, the student is able to form own stand, making a commitment to a personal moral code or personal ethic

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Pert Candace Pert; biological scientist; her work in 1973 produced an understanding of how opiates act on the body, which led to an understanding of endorphins and, more generally, neurotransmitters and receptors; Pert’s work on peptides such as peptide T has had implications for AIDS research; in her book Molecules of Emotion, Pert calls for a more holistic understanding of body and mind, calling the entire body a system for emotions

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postformal thought Labouvie-Vief’s term for adult thinking that does not rely on logic or reason but instead takes into account relativistic nature of problems and solutions; adult thinking that sees gray areas in addition to previously perceived right-or-wrong, on-or-off; flexible thinking that acknowledges the world as complex and contradictory

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practical intelligence Robert Sternberg’s term for career-oriented intelligence by which broad principles about business-appropriate behaviors are deduced and then applied in business situations; this form of intelligence is learned through observation and modeling; practical intelligence is highly correlated to business success whereas a traditional intelligence score is not

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Reigel Klaus Reigel’s work from 1975 focused on the development of dialectical thinking among young adults

Thesis = sense of what is the Right Thing To Do

Antithesis = recognition of a need for pragmatic action, which may not match the earlier expectation of what is the Right Thing To Do

Synthesis = philosophical acceptance of creating the best possible outcome, which may mean accommodating life’s contradictions and ironies

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Reinke Barbara Reinke; building on Levinson’s work, she labeled women’s turning points

1985 article: The timing of psychosocial changes in women’s lives: The years 25 to 45. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 1353-1364.

Universal transition for women = age 27 - 30; marked by personal disruption, reassessment, and reorientation; followed by improved satisfaction with life

Transition in a woman’s 40s is marked by decreased marital satisfaction and increased assertiveness; another transition occurs in a woman’s 60s

Transitions may be tied to the family life cycle

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K. Warner Schaie, developmentalist; 5 stages of cognitive development

1. acquisitive stage—the task of acquiring information spans all of childhood and adolescence

2. achieving stage—the task of applying one’s intelligence to reach career and family goals during early adulthood

3. responsible stage—the task of protecting career and family during and after the transition from early to middle adulthood

4. executive stage—the task of broadening focus from the personal domain to the community or societal level, typically occurring later than the responsible stage in middle adulthood but not necessarily exhibited by all adults

5. reintegrative stage—the task of applying one’s intelligence to issues of great personal concern during late adulthood

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Steele Claude Steele; psychologist; Stanford University; work in 1990s has established stereotype threat (ST) theory, which says that one’s awareness of a commonly held stereotype shapes intellectual identity and performance on intelligence tests

For example, when feeling stereotype threat, very able African-American students score lower than White students. The same happens for White males when they expect comparison to Asian males on difficult math tests. The same happens for high-math-performing women when they are told they are taking a test that produces gender differences.

Research underscores that even subtle cues can produce the stereotype result. For example, just putting check-off boxes for “race” at the top of a test produces lower test scores for African-Americans.

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Robert Sternberg, psychologist; an IQ score predicts academic success while practical intelligence predicts business/career success; triarchic theory of intelligence breaks intelligence into three components; triangular theory of love identifies three components that can combined to form eight types of love

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triangular theory of love Robert Sternberg’s theory of three components comprising love

1. Intimacy component—closeness, affection, connectedness

2. Passion component—sex drive, physical closeness, romance

3. Decision/Commitment component—decision to (recognition of) love followed by the commitment to maintain the love

Eight types of love formed by the components:

nonlove—no components of love
infatuated love—P
empty love—D/C
romantic love—I, P
companionate love—I, D/C
fatuous love—P, D/C
consummate love—I, P, D/C

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triarchic theory of intelligence Robert Sternberg’s theory of three components comprising intelligence

1. componential component—use your mental components to select what you’ve learned (from formulae to data) to solve problems

2. experiential component—use your experiences to insightfully apply old info to new situations

3. contextual component—use your practical intelligence to cope in everyday life, including on-the-job situations

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WAIS Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale; most widely used intelligence test for adults

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Wechsler David Wechsler; developed the WAIS; his confirmation in 1972 of older people’s apparent decline in mental functioning was based on cross-sectional studies; while later shown to be untrue, the conclusion held up for about two decades

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