Cognitive Development in Early Adulthood

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Cognitive changes of early adulthood are supported by further
development of the cerebral cortex
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Especially the frontal lobes
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Though at a slower pace than in adolescence
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Attaining higher education, establishing a career, and grappling with the
demands of marriage and child rearing
Pruning of synapses along with growth and myelination of
stimulated neural fibers continue
Cognitive advances are promoted by major life events
fMRI evidence reveals that as young adults become increasingly
proficient in a field of endeavor, cortical regions specialized for
those activities undergo further experience-dependent brain
growth
Structural changes may occur as skill refinement results in increased
cortical tissue devoted to the task
› And at times, the brain areas governing an activity may be reorganized
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How does cognition change in early adulthood?
This question has been examined from 3 vantage
points
1.
It has been proposed that transformations in the
structure of thought occur
 New, qualitatively distinct ways of thinking that extend the
cognitive-developmental changes of childhood and adolescence
2.
Adulthood is a time of attaining advanced knowledge
in a particular area
 This accomplishment has important implications for information
processing and creativity
3.
Researchers have been interested in the extent to which
the diverse mental abilities assessed by intelligence tests
remain stable or change during the adult years
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Piaget acknowledged the possibility that important
advances in thinking follow the attainment of formal
operational thinking
› He observed that adolescents place excessive faith in
abstract systems
 They prefer a logical, internally consistent perspective on
the world to one that is vague, contradictory, and
adapted to particular circumstances
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Postformal thought – cognitive development beyond
Piaget’s formal operations
› Researchers studying postformal thought have observed
that cognitive development occurs beyond Piaget’s
formal operations
› As personal effort and social experiences spark
increasingly rational, flexible, and practical ways of
thinking
William Perry (1981, 1970/1998)
 Epistemic cognition – refers to our
reflections on how we arrive at facts,
beliefs, and ideas
 When mature, rational thinkers reach
conclusions that differ from those of others,
they consider the justifiability of their
conclusions
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› When they cannot justify their approach, they
revise it, seeking a more balanced, adequate
route to acquiring knowledge
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Perry interviewed university students to discover
why they respond in dramatically different
ways to the diversity of ideas they encounter in
college
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At the end of each of their 4 years, he asked
students “what stood out” during the previous
year
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Responses indicated that the students’
reflections on “knowing” changed as they
experienced the complexities of university life
and moved closer to adult roles
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Younger students regarded knowledge as made up
of separate units (beliefs and prepositions)
› They believed the truth of these separate units could be
determined by comparing them to objective standards
 Standards that exist apart from the thinking person and
his/her current situation
› As a result, they engaged in dualistic thinking – dividing
information, values, and authority into right and wrong,
good and bad, we and they
 Ex. College freshman: “When I went to my first lecture,
what the man said was just like God’s word. I believed
everything he said because he is a professor… and this is a
respected position.”
 Ex. Asked a college sophomore “If two people disagree on
the interpretation of a poem, how would you decide who
was right?”
 Response: “You’d have to ask the poet, It’s his poem”
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Older students moved toward relativistic thinking –
viewing all knowledge as embedded in a framework of
thought
› Aware of a diversity of opinions on many topics, they gave up
the possibility of absolute truth in favor of multiple truths, each
relative to its context
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As a result, their thinking becomes more flexible and
tolerant
› Ex. College senior: “Just seeing how [famous philosophers] fell
short of an all-encompassing answer, [you realize] that ideas are
really individualized. And you begin to have respect for how
great their thought could be, without its being absolute.”
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Relativistic thinking leads to the realization that one’s own
beliefs are often subjective, since several frameworks
satisfy the criterion of internal logical consistency
› Thus, the relativistic thinker is acutely aware that each person, in
arriving at a position, creates his/her own “truth”
Eventually, the most mature individuals progress to
commitment within relativistic thinking – instead of
choosing between opposing views, they try to formulate a
more satisfying perspective that synthesizes contradictions
 When considering which of 2 theories studied in a college
course is better, or which of several movies most deserves
an Oscar
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› The individual moves beyond the stance that everything is a
matter of opinion and generates rational criteria against which
options can be evaluated
Few college students reach this extension of relativism
 Adults who attain it generally display a more sophisticated
approach to learning
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› In which they actively seek out differing perspectives to advance
their knowledge and understanding
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Advances in epistemic cognition depend on further gains
in metacognition
› Which are likely to occur in situations that challenge young
peoples’ perspectives and induce them to consider the
rationality of their thought processes
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When students tackle challenging, ill-structured problems,
interaction among individuals who are roughly equal in
knowledge and authority is beneficial
› Because it prevents acceptance of another’s reasoning simply
because of greater power or expertise
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Researchers acknowledge that movement from dualism
to relativism is probably limited to people who are college
educated
› Because of the many viewpoints encountered in the course of
college study
› Also, the most advanced attainment – commitment within
relativism – may require advanced graduate study
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Like Perry, Labouvie-Vief points out that whereas
adolescents operate within a world of possibility,
adulthood involves movement from hypothetical to
pragmatic thought
› Pragmatic thought – a structural advance in which logic
becomes a tool for solving real-world problems
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The need to specialize motivates this change
› As adults select one path out of many alternatives, they become
more aware of the constraints of everyday life
› In the course of balancing various roles, they accept
contradictions as part of existence and develop ways of thinking
that thrive on imperfection and compromise
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Young adults’ enhanced reflective capacities alter the
dynamics of their emotional lives
› They become more adept in integrating cognition with emotion
which allows for making sense of discrepancies
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Labovie-Vief found that from adolescence through middle
adulthood, people gain in cognitive-affective complexity
– awareness of positive and negative feelings and
coordination of them into a complex organized structure
› Ex. A 34 year old combines roles, traits, and diverse emotions into
this coherent self-description: “With the recent birth of our first
child, I find myself more fulfilled than ever, yet struggling in some
ways. My elation is tempered by my gnawing concern over
meeting all my responsibilities in a satisfying way while remaining
an individualized person with needs and desires”
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Cognitive-affective complexity promotes greater
awareness of one’s own and others’ perspectives and
motivations
› It is a vital aspect of adult emotional intelligence and is valuable
in solving many pragmatic problems
› It helps people regulate intense emotion and, therefore, think
rationally about real-world dilemmas, even those that are full of
negative information
Expertise – acquisition of extensive knowledge in a field or
endeavor
 Because it takes many years to master any complex
domain, expertise is supported by the specialization that
begins with selecting a college major or an occupation
 Once attained, expertise has a profound impact on
information processing
 Characteristics of experts
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› Compared with novices, experts remember and reason more
quickly and effectively
› Experts know more domain-specific concepts, and represent
them at a deeper and more abstract level and as having more
features that can be linked to other concepts
› When faced with a complicated problem
 Novices tend to use a trial and error approach
 Experts tend to plan ahead, systematically analyzing and
categorizing elements and selecting the best from many
possibilities
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Expertise is necessary for creativity , as well as problem solving
Besides just being original, the creative products of adults must be
directed at a social or aesthetic need
› Mature creativity requires the ability to formulate new, culturally
meaningful problems and to ask significant questions that have not been
posed before
› This movement from problem solving to problem finding is a core feature
of postformal thought evident in highly accomplished artists and scientists
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Case studies support the 10-year rule in development of masterlevel creativity
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A decade between initial exposure to a field and sufficient expertise to
produce a creative work
Creative accomplishment rises in early adulthood, peaks in the
late 30s or early 40s, and gradually declines
 Those who get an early start in creativity tend to peak and drop
off sooner, while “late bloomers” hit their stride at older ages
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This suggests that creativity is more a function of “career age” than of
chronological age
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The course of creativity also varies across disciplines
› Artists and musicians typically show an early rise in
creativity, maybe because they do not need extensive
formal education before they begin to produce
› Academic scholars and scientists, who must earn higher
academic degrees and spend years doing research to
make worthwhile contributions, usually display their
achievements later and over a longer time
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Creativity requires qualities other than being an
expert
› An innovative thinking style, tolerance of ambiguity, a
special drive to succeed, and a willingness to experiment
and try again after failure
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Creativity is determined by multiple factors and,
when promoted by personal situational factors, can
continue many decades
About 2/3 of U.S. high school graduates
enroll in an institution of higher education
 Most people view their college years as
more influential than any other period of
adulthood
 College serves as a “developmental testing
ground”
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› A time for devoting attention to exploring
alternative values, roles, and behaviors
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College exposes students to new ideas and
beliefs, new freedoms and opportunities,
and new academic and social demands
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Research reveals that broad psychological changes occur from the
freshman to the senior year of college
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College students’ attitudes and values also broaden
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They show increased interest in literature, the performing arts, and philosophical
and historical issues, and greater tolerance for ethnic and cultural diversity
Their moral reasoning advances as they develop a concern for individual rights and
human welfare
They develop greater self-understanding, enhanced self-esteem, and a firmer sense
of identity
The type of 4-year institution attended – public vs. private, highly
selective vs. relatively open enrollment – makes little difference in
psychological outcomes or even in ultimate career success and
earnings
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Students become better at reasoning about problems that have no clear solution,
identifying the strengths and weaknesses of opposing sides of complex issues, and
reflecting on the quality of their own thinking
And, cognitive growth is just as great at 2-year community colleges as at 4-year
institutions
Rather, the impact of college is jointly influenced by the person’s
involvement in academic and nonacademic activities and the richness
and diversity of the campus environment
45% of U.S. students at 2-year institutions and 30% of those at 4year institutions drop out, most within the 1st year or 1st 6 months
 Both personal and institutional factors play a role in dropout
rates
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Most entering freshman have high hopes for college life but find the
transition difficult
Dropout rates are higher in colleges with less selective admission
requirements
Ethnic minority students from low-SES families are at increased risk for
dropping out
Colleges that do little to help high-risk students have a higher percentage
of dropouts
Students who report experiencing “disrespect” on campus because of
their ethnicity or religion are more likely to drop out
Beginning to prepare young people in early adolescence with
the necessary educational aspirations and skills can do much to
improve college success
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Reaching out to 1st year college students
is crucial to prevent dropout
› Programs that forge bonds between
teachers and students and that provide
academic support, part-time work
opportunities, and meaningful extracurricular
roles increase retention
› Young people who feel that they have
entered a college community that is
concerned about them as individuals are far
more likely to graduate
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Young adults, college-bound or not,
face a major life decision: the choice of
a suitable work role
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Being a productive worker calls for many
of the same qualities as being an active
citizen and a nurturing family member
› Good judgment, responsibility, dedication,
and cooperation
In societies with an abundance of career possibilities,
occupational choice is a gradual process that begins long
before adolescence
 Major theorists view the young person as moving through
several periods of vocational development
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› The fantasy period – in early and middle childhood, children gain
insight into career options by fantasizing about them
 Their preferences, guided largely by familiarity, glamour, and
excitement, bear little relation to the decisions they will eventually
make
› The tentative period – between ages 11-16, adolescents think
about careers in more complex ways, at first in terms of their
interests, and then in terms of their abilities and values
› The realistic period – by the late teens and early 20s, young
people start to narrow their options
 They may engage in further exploration
 In the final phase, crystallization, they focus on a general
vocational category and experiment for a time before settling on
a single occupation
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A few young people follow a direct path to a career
goal, some decide and later change their minds,
while still others remain undecided for an extended
period
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College students have additional time to explore
various options, while many low-SES youths face a
restricted range of choices
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Making an occupational choice is the result of
dynamic interaction between person and
environment
› Affected by personality, family and teachers, and gender
stereotypes
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People are attracted to occupations that complement their
personalities
John Holland identified 6 personality types that affect vocational choice
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The investigative person, who enjoys working with ideas, is likely to select a scientific
occupation (ex. Anthropologist, physicist, or engineer)
The social person, who likes interacting with people, gravitates toward human
services (ex. Counseling, social work, or teaching)
The realistic person, who prefers real-world problems and working with objects,
tends to choose a mechanical occupation (ex. Construction, plumbing, or
surveying)
The artistic person, who is emotional and high in need for individual expression, looks
toward an artistic field (ex. Writing, music, or the visual arts)
The conventional person, who likes well-structured tasks and values material
possessions and social status, has traits well-suited to certain business fields (ex.
Accounting, banking, or quality control)
The enterprising person, who is adventurous, persuasive, and a strong leader, is
drawn to sales and supervisory positions or politics
Research confirms a relationship between personality and vocational
choice in diverse cultures, but it is only moderate
Many people are blends of several personality types and can do well at
more than one kind of occupation
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Young people’s vocational aspirations correlate strongly with
their parents’ jobs
Those who grew up in higher SES homes are more likely to select highstatus, white-collar occupations
› Those with lower SES backgrounds tend to choose less prestigious, bluecollar careers
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Parent-child vocational similarity is partly a function of similarity in
personality, intellectual abilities, and especially educational
attainment
 More today than in past generations, number of years of
schooling completed powerfully predicts occupational status
 Higher SES parents are more likely to give their children important
information about the world of work
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They tend to use parenting practices that promote curiosity and selfdirection, which are required for high-status careers
Parental pressure to do well in school and encouragement
toward high-status occupations predict vocational attainment
beyond SES
Young adults who choose careers
requiring extensive education often
report that teachers influenced their
choice
 High school students who say that most
of their teachers are caring and
accessible, interested in their future, and
expect them to work hard, feel more
confident about choosing a personally
suitable career and succeeding at it
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Over the past three decades, young women have
expressed increasing interest in occupations largely held
by men
› The percentage of women engineers, lawyers, doctors, and
business executives increased between 1983-2007 in the U.S. but
remains far from equal representation
› Women are concentrated in less well-paid, traditionally feminine
professions, such as writing, social work, education, and nursing
› In virtually all fields, women’s achievements lag behind those of
men
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Ability cannot account for these dramatic sex differences
› Gender-stereotyped messages play a key role in making girls in
secondary school less confident of their abilities, even though
girls’ grades are higher than boys’
› In college, the career aspirations of many women decline
further, as they question their capacity and opportunities to
succeed in male-dominated fields and worry about combining a
highly demanding career with family responsibilities
Women remaining in the sciences are more likely that their
male counterparts to select a health profession over
engineering or math or physical science career
 Young women who continue to achieve usually have four
experiences in common
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› A college environment that values women’s accomplishments
and attempts to enhance women’s experiences in its curriculum
› Frequent interaction with faculty and professionals in their
chosen fields
› The opportunity to test their abilities in a supportive environment
› Models of accomplished women who have successfully dealt
with family-career role conflict
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Men have changed little in their interest in nontraditional
occupations
› Those men who have chosen traditionally feminine occupations
derive enjoyment and self-esteem from these careers
› Ex. Teaching, nursing, and librarians
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Approximately 1/3 of American young people
graduate from high school with no current plans to
go to college
› About 20% of recent high school graduates who do not
continue their education are unemployed
 When they do find work, most hold low-paid, unskilled jobs
› American employers regard recent high school graduates
as poorly prepared for skilled business and industrial
occupations and manual trades
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Unlike European nations, the U.S. has no widespread
training systems for non-college-bound youths
› As a result, most graduate without work-related skills and
experience a “floundering period” that lasts for several
years
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In Germany, young people who do not go attend a
college-preparatory high school have access to a
successful work-study apprenticeship system for entering
business and industry
› About 2/3 of German youths participate
› After completing full-time schooling at age 15 or 16, they spend
the remaining 2 years of compulsory education combining parttime vocational courses with an apprenticeship
› Students train in work settings for more than 350 blue and white
collar occupations
› Apprentices who complete the program and pass a qualifying
examination are certified as skilled workers and earn union-set
wages
› Businesses provide financial support because they know the
program guarantees a competent, dedicated work force
› Many apprentices are hired into well-paid jobs by the firms that
train them
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The success of the German system – and of similar
systems elsewhere in Europe – suggests that a
national apprenticeship program would improve the
transition from high school to work for U.S. young
people
› The benefits of bringing together the worlds of schooling
and work include helping non-college-bound young
people establish productive lives right after graduation
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Implementing an apprenticeship system poses major
challenges
› Such as ensuring cooperation between schools and
business and preventing low-SES youths from being
concentrated in the lowest-skilled apprenticeship
placements