Adolescence, adulthood and aging - Developmental psychology

Psychology: an introduction (Oxford Southern Africa) - Leslie Swartz 2011

Adolescence, adulthood and aging
Developmental psychology

Tamara Shefer, Norman Duncan & Ashley van Niekerk


After studying this chapter you should be able to:

•describe the physical changes that take place during adolescence and early, middle and late adulthood

•identify the different health risks that apply over the periods of early, middle and late adulthood

•describe the cognitive changes that occur during adolescence and early, middle and late adulthood

•discuss the influence of culture and social norms on cognitive development

•discuss identity development during adolescence

•describe the influence of the community, family and peers on adolescent development

•discuss the intersection of gender and sexuality during adolescence

•describe risk behaviours and their impact on adolescent development

•describe and discuss the main South African social, environmental and economic challenges that impact upon and constrain adult development

•discuss the scope and impact of the epidemic of violence on South African men and women

•discuss the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on the familial and economic roles of older South African adults.


Yolisa was in a taxi on her way back from visiting her cousin, Vuyisa, who was in prison. She thought he had looked so vulnerable and confused, and she couldn’t help thinking that at heart he was just a young man, yet he looked like he had a world of trouble on his shoulders. She remembered when he was a teenager and how he had to take responsibility for his whole family once his father died and left his unemployed and sickly mother with five young children to care for. It was no wonder that he had turned to crime, stealing food at first to help provide meals for the family. Petty crime had led to bigger things, and eventually to jail.

Looking back on her own adolescent years, Yolisa realised that she had been very lucky to have parents who had made it possible for her to experience the joy of youth. Her parents had been very strict, and the typical adolescent dangers of drugs and sex had seemed far away. At the time she had resented this and imagined her friends to be having so much more fun than she was. But now she was grateful that she had been protected in this way. She felt absolutely sure that this was why she was where she was today: a first-year university student with a bright future ahead of her.

When Yolisa first heard that they would be discussing adulthood and ageing in class, she felt a little disappointed. Perhaps this section would be less interesting and less relevant to her own life than the material they had covered in the course so far. But after reading a little on the subject, Yolisa found her thoughts turning to her grandmother who lived out in the rural areas with her mother’s sister. She only saw her about once a year but ’Gogo’ was still a very important figure in her family’s life. Having respect for older people was something her mother had impressed on her right from when she was a young child.

Yolisa tried to imagine herself being old, and she wondered what it might be like to know that one was approaching the end of one’s life. She hoped that she would have lived a good and interesting life by the time she got to that point. She also hoped she would have some people around who loved her.


Popular culture seems to suggest that the adolescent stage of development is a troublesome one for the individual, their family and society at large. Similarly, traditional developmental psychology has reinforced the idea that, universally, this is an emotionally turbulent and difficult stage of development. G. Stanley Hall (1844—1924), known as the father of adolescent psychology, coined the term storm and stress to describe what he saw as the natural moodiness of adolescents (Dacey, Travers & Fiore, 2008). But is it really so for every culture? There is a growing argument in developmental psychology that adolescence is not necessarily a traumatic process (Davey, 2004). It is now more widely accepted that there may not be one universal experience of adolescence, but rather that this stage may take on different forms across different cultures, and even within different families and for different individuals.

In traditional developmental psychology, adolescence refers to that stage of human development that follows middle childhood, and that serves as the transition from childhood to adulthood (Richter, 2006). It is generally viewed as beginning with the onset of the biological changes of puberty and ending with the cultural identity of adulthood. While adolescence may not necessarily be universally traumatic and in some communities does not even constitute a clear-cut developmental stage, a wide range of physical, emotional and social changes are associated with this stage of development. In most cultures, the beginning of biological puberty, and the social and cultural expectations and pressures that come with this, tend to signify an important transition for the child (see Box 4.1).

This chapter presents some of the central theories and documentation of adolescence in traditional developmental psychology. It looks at this development through the lenses of biology, psychology and society, while recognising that these levels of experience are never separate in the lived experiences of the human subject. In order to create a more contextualised picture of the South African adolescent, this chapter draws on the South African context, as well as on local literature and research on adolescence. This chapter also highlights some of the key challenges for adolescents in contemporary South Africa.

The chapter goes on to consider adulthood and the aging process. In doing this, it is useful to bear in mind that what happens in these stages is not merely the result of a biological blueprint for development. Rather, these life stages are largely built on foundations laid earlier in life, and are significantly influenced by people’s current life circumstances. Obviously, the quality of these foundations and circumstances will determine the quality of life during this last phase of human development.

Lasting from about the age of 20 years to the end of life, the period of adulthood is generally considered the longest stage in the human life span. It is also viewed as the stage when individuals reach full biological and psychosocial maturity. Although the nature and onset of adulthood may vary considerably from one individual to the next and across societies, most developmental psychology textbooks describe adulthood as consisting of three distinct and consecutive phases, namely early adulthood (20 to 39 years), middle adulthood (40 to 59 years) and late adulthood (60 years and older) (Sadock & Sadock, 2011). This chapter will broadly use this framework to describe and clarify development during adulthood; however, these stages are not a pre-set template for all adult development.


Figure 4.1 The aging process of a man

Physical development


Physical development in adolescence centres on the physical and hormonal changes that take place in puberty. Puberty refers to the period of rapid physical maturation involving hormonal and bodily changes that occur primarily during early adolescence (Santrock, 2007). Puberty begins with hormonal increases, which cause a range of bodily changes that signify sexual maturation and gender differentiation. These changes result in primary sexual characteristics, which are directly related to reproduction, and secondary sexual characteristics, which distinguish the sexes without being related to production (e.g. facial hair). These changes include a growth spurt in height and weight, which lasts about four and a half years (Papalia, Olds & Feldman, 2010), and which peaks at eleven and a half years for girls and thirteen and a half years for boys (Santrock, 2007).

As shown in Box 4.2, there are many factors that impact on the onset of puberty, such as nutrition, health, heredity and body mass (Santrock, 2007). This means that the onset of puberty may vary greatly from person to person, and across different cultures.

Notable physical changes in puberty include the following:

•Girls’ ovaries enlarge, and all parts of the reproductive system become more developed. Owing to these changes, the menstrual cycle begins for young women (menarche).


Most cultures have rituals linked to the transition from childhood to adulthood. In many indigenous South African cultures, a circumcision ritual carried out in groups and in a remote area (in the bush) has been traditional for late-adolescent males. Ramphele (2002, p. 57) details an account of a Xhosa initiation ritual as experienced by one of the young men she interviewed, highlighting the centrality of ’discipline and fortitude in the face of physical and emotional strain’.

There are many other examples of puberty rites across the globe. Robinson (2002) details some examples:

•Navajo young men make a solo journey into the mountains to attain their manhood.

•Australian aboriginal adolescents are given tattoos in late puberty as preparation for adulthood, and the transition is viewed through the metaphor of the death of childhood and the rebirth of adulthood.

•Girls of the Arapesh tribe in New Guinea stay in menstrual huts in early puberty for six days without food or water.

•Religious families in North America celebrate a teenager’s Confirmation (in Christian families) or a Barmitzvah (in Jewish families).

For further reading, consult Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom and/or Mamphela Ramphele’s Steering by the Stars.

•Boys’ testicles, penis, scrotum, prostate gland and seminal vessels are further developed, along with the beginning of sperm production (spermarche).

•Body hair increases, primarily pubic and underarm hair, but also facial and upper-torso hair, especially in boys.

•Girls develop breasts.

•Voices deepen.

•Skin textures change, which may result in skin infections such as acne.

The body changes in adolescence clearly also have many psychological consequences. Adolescents often become preoccupied with their bodies (Santrock, 2007). This focus on the body differs according to gender, with pressure on males to develop their bodies, while young women are expected to conform to the widespread media image of slimness (see Figure 4.3). It is not surprising, then, that the eating disorders anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa most frequently begin in adolescence. Much of the psychological literature on these disorders highlights the significance of the social pressures on girls to achieve the slender ideal image, as well as the socio-psychological meanings of developing into adult women (see, for example, the seminal works of Bruch, 1974; Orbach, 1978).

Although it has been argued that eating disorders are only present in affluent societies or middle-class families, there is growing evidence that South African youth, particularly adolescent girls, in all communities are at risk (Jordaan, 2014). For example, a recent study found that the prevalence of abnormal eating attitudes is equally common in South African schoolgirls from different ethnic backgrounds (Mould, Grobler, Odendaal & De Jager, 2011).


•Physical development in adolescence starts with the hormonal and bodily changes of puberty.

•Puberty leads to the development of primary and secondary sexual characteristics, and includes a growth spurt.

•In many cultures, puberty is celebrated with rites of passage.

•The onset of puberty is affected by nutrition, health, heredity and body mass, as well as individual differences.

•Physical changes in adolescence often have psychological consequences.

•The focus on the body may lead to eating disorders, primarily in girls.

Early adulthood

With regard to physical development, early adulthood is generally considered to constitute the prime of life. For example, at approximately 25 to 30 years of age, physical growth as well as muscular strength and manual dexterity reach a peak (Santrock, 2007). With regard to overall health, the early years of adulthood are generally also considered to be one of the more problem-free periods in the human life cycle.

However, this period also announces the first visible signs of aging. For example, because of hormonal changes and a reduced flow of blood to the skin, hair may already grow less abundantly from the late 20s onwards. Additionally, as the skin begins to lose its elasticity, facial wrinkles may start making their appearance at this stage (Staehelin, 2005).


Puberty is usually presented as a biological and universal fact of change that heralds adolescence. However, biology is not something unrelated to culture. Rather, it is becoming more evident that the social world has a complex impact on humans’ biological and physiological lives. Reports of the effect of hormones used on animals in the production of meat represents one of the most frightening indicators of the way in which biology and culture are interwoven in the experience of puberty. In Puerto Rica in the 1980s, there were reports of girls as young as the age of four developing breasts, and beginning to menstruate (Henriques, Holloway, Urwin, Venn & Walkerdine, 1984). The acceleration of sexual maturation was believed to be the result of the use of oestrogen in the feed of chickens, and these chickens formed part of the staple diet of this group of Puerto Ricans. Henriques et al. (1984, p. 21) comment that the ’effect of these biological changes is utter confusion of the children, their peers and adults regarding appropriate behaviour and expectations’.

A further example of the way in which puberty is affected by environmental context is provided by cross-cultural and historical differences in the onset age of puberty. Papalia et al. (2010) note that there has been a significant drop in the average age of menarche in the last 100 years, primarily in first-world countries.

See Ruth Ozeki’s My year of meat for a fictionalised account of the use of hormones in meat.

Health risks

Although globally early adulthood is generally considered the period when the individual is least likely to experience health problems, in South Africa, young adults are at risk both from violence and from disease. In this age group, individuals are most at risk of death or injury through almost all forms of violence, including violent assault and suicide, and motor vehicle collisions (Donson, 2009). Donson (2009) also reports that violence is the leading cause of non-natural death for 15- to 24-year-olds (44.8 per cent), 25- to 34-year-olds (41.5 per cent) and 35- to 44-year-olds (33.1 per cent). In Gauteng in 2011, violence peaked as a cause of non-natural death in the 24- to 29-year-old group with the male—female ratio being close to 6:1 (Medical Research Council, 2013).

According to Miedzian (in Berger, 1994), the gendered patterns of injury and death due to violence are the result of a complex interaction between a range of biosocial factors. These factors include the higher levels of testosterone and drug abuse found among males, as well as early socialisation (Sell, Hone & Pound, 2012). This will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter.

HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are other major health problems currently facing young adults in South Africa. Tuberculosis is the current leading cause of death in South Africa (Statistics South Africa, 2014a), being responsible for 10.7 per cent of deaths in 2011. In terms of HIV, in South Africa in 2012, there was a gender difference in prevalence with 9.9 per cent of males infected and 14.4 per cent of females. This is partly because of physiological factors and partly because of social dynamics, for example the tendency for older men to be ’sugar daddies’ to girls in their teens (Wyrod et al., 2011).

Overall, HIV prevalence peaks between 30 and 39 years (about 30 per cent), but in the 20- to 24-year-olds, prevalence for females is 17.4 per cent compared to 5.1 per cent for males. As will become clearer later in this chapter, the alarming spread of this pandemic has had a significant impact on the manner in which many young South Africans embark on two of the more crucial life tasks of early adulthood, namely establishing an intimate relationship with a life-partner and parenting.

Middle adulthood

In terms of chronological age, middle adulthood is traditionally reported to extend from roughly the age of 40 years to roughly the age of 60 years, with a range of physical, biological and social cues or indicators generally marking its onset. As noted in the introduction to this part, these age ranges depend on the life expectancy of a country’s population. Some of these indicators are considered below.

Middle adulthood is generally characterised by an increasingly perceptible decline in physical attributes and functioning (Helson & Soto, 2005). This includes a decrease in muscle size, the gradual shrinkage and stiffening of the skeleton, an increase in body fat retention, and a decline in dexterity, flexibility, and sensory and perceptual abilities (Sadock & Sadock, 2011). For example, a decline in visual capacities is prominent from about the age of 40, while taste, smell and sensitivity to pain and temperature generally decline from about 45 years (Santrock, 2007).

Table 4.1 HIV prevalence by sex and age, South Africa 2012 Shisana et al., 2014, p. 38


Additionally, during this period there is also a decline in the functioning of the digestive system, and a decrease in the flow of blood to the brain. Women reach menopause (which refers to the end of menstruation, and, consequently, the capacity to bear children) and males experience a decline in sexual responsiveness (Staehelin, 2005).

The physical experience of middle (and late) adulthood generally occurs earlier among lower income, unskilled workers than among higher income professionals. This is largely a result of the fact that lower income groups, compared to their higher income counterparts, are generally more frequently exposed to health risks (such as working with industrial chemicals, long hours of strenuous labour, inadequate health facilities and stress) that hasten the aging process (Mathers, Sadana, Salomon, Murray & Lopez, 2001).

While middle adulthood is the stage when the first signs of significant physical decline appear, many developmental experts believe that regular exercise and a good diet can slow the aging process substantially, and allow the individual to continue to function with vitality and a sense of well-being (Staehelin, 2005). However, in a country and a world where the gap between the rich and the poor is getting bigger (World Bank, 2014), we may well ask how many people will be privileged enough to enhance their quality of life in this way.

Health risks

During middle adulthood, the individual becomes increasingly susceptible to the risk of various ailments, such as cardiovascular diseases (which include cardiac disorders, arteriosclerosis and hypertension), various forms of cancer, arthritis and respiratory diseases (Staehelin, 2005). This increased susceptibility to illness and disease during this stage of development is largely a result of the increasing degeneration of the body.

Nonetheless, research evidence shows that people’s living conditions and lifestyles have a significant influence on their health. For example, heavy smoking and drinking have been implicated in various cardiovascular diseases (Staehelin, 2005). Furthermore, it appears that stress associated with certain lifestyles (such as hyper-competitiveness and social isolation) and living conditions (such as unemployment, and living in poverty-stricken and violent communities) contribute significantly to the health problems of middle adulthood, particularly to cardiovascular diseases and depression (Burney et al., 2013). However, the way in which individuals perceive and respond to the stressful events with which they are confronted also influences the impact on their health. For example, individuals who perceive a potentially stressful event as a challenge that they can deal with, are much less likely than others to be adversely affected by it (Faure & Loxton, 2003).

Late adulthood/old age

Developmental psychologists have traditionally used the age of 60 years as a marker for the onset of late adulthood. However, as populations become increasingly long-lived, it is likely that this age range may move upwards in future. The commencement of late adulthood coincides with senescence — the increasing decline of all the body’s systems, including the cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine and immune systems (Sadock & Sadock, 2011). However, the actual rate of aging may vary greatly among individuals. Furthermore, the belief that old age is always associated with profound intellectual and physical infirmity is a myth. The majority of older people retain most of their physical and cognitive abilities (Sadock & Sadock, 2011).

The general increase of living standards and medical technology has led to an increase in longevity in many societies and, therefore, a significant number of older persons. In some countries like the UK, the retirement age is steadily rising. This increasing number of older people is a challenge for the economically active section of the population to support. However, for many low-income countries, the situation is very different. For example, while the average life span in the US is 79.56 years, for South Africans it is 49.56 years (Central Intelligence Agency, n.d.). According to Statistics South Africa (2014a), life expectancy in South Africa for people born in 2014 is 59.1 years for males and 63.1 years for females.

Of course, it is not just average life expectancy that differs between societies; it is also the number of years of full health that the average person enjoys. Health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE) is a measure developed by the World Health Organization to determine the average number of years that specific populations are expected to live in full health. Coutsoukis (n.d.) reports that in 2014, the HALE for Americans was 70.4 years, while for South Africans it was 39.8 years. These differences between the average life spans and the HALEs of the populations of low-income and high-income countries are largely a result of the differences in their standards of living.

With senescence, there is a decline in sensory and psychomotor abilities, although with a great deal of individual variation (Sadock & Sadock, 2011; Staehelin, 2005). The loss of vision and hearing are common, and may have particularly serious psychological impacts since they hinder a range of daily living and social activities, and therefore the individual’s independence (Margrain & Bolton, 2005). There may also be a sharp drop in sensitivity to a range of flavours and smells, with older people often complaining that food is less tasty and, consequently, eating less.

Furthermore, older people experience a decline in strength, muscular coordination and reaction times (Staehelin, 2005), resulting in higher proportions of home and traffic accidents. With senescence, there is a shortening of the spinal column, a consequent decrease in height, and an increased vulnerability to osteoporosis, especially among women. Generally, the organs, especially the heart, become less efficient. There is also an increasing decline in the immune system, with greater susceptibility to infectious illnesses. For both men and women, there is an increased decline in sexual function and responsiveness (Staehelin, 2005).

Health risks

Given the longer HALE in the US, most individuals in the period of late adulthood are likely to enjoy reasonable health, despite the onset of some physical decline. However, in South Africa, the experience of health may vary widely, depending on socio-economic status, gender and whether people live in an urban or rural location (World Health Organization, n.d.). As suggested in the previous section, many South Africans will not even reach late adulthood. Those who do may experience a decline in their health owing to injuries and infections, and an increase of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

Generally, the increased susceptibility to illness during this stage of development is largely a result of the progressive degeneration of the body. In South Africa, however, many older people who have experienced a lifetime of poor diet, arduous physical labour, multiple pregnancies and inadequate reproductive health care have an even greater susceptibility to ill health (Burney et al., 2013). In this age group, major causes of illness, disability and death are strokes, tuberculosis (TB), heart disease, diabetes and cancer (Bradshaw, Schneider, Laubscher & Nojilana, 2002). About 90 per cent of older adults have considerable annual medical expenses, with few having any medical insurance. Many older adults rely upon the assistance of their family and the state to meet rising medical expenses.


•Early adulthood is considered to be the prime of life, physically; however, visible aging does begin in this period.

•Health risks in early adulthood include death or injury due to violence and car accidents; males are at higher risk here than females. Other major health problems include HIV and tuberculosis.

•In middle adulthood, there is an increasingly perceptible decline in physical attributes and functioning. Women reach menopause and males experience a decline in sexual responsiveness.

•Exposure to long hours of strenuous work and lack of access to adequate health facilities hasten the aging process.

•Regular exercise and a good diet can slow the aging process and reduce health risks.

•Health risks include increased risk of cardiovascular disease, various forms of cancer, arthritis and respiratory disease.

•Lifestyle stress can contribute to mental and physical ill health.

•The age range of late adulthood is changing as the global population lives longer.

•In late adulthood (senescence), there is an increasing decline of all the body’s systems, and in sensory and psychomotor abilities.

•The increasing number of older people is a challenge for the economically active section of the population to support.

•South Africans have a lower than average life expectancy and healthy life expectancy.

•The experience of health in old age may vary widely, depending on socio-economic status, gender and where people live.

•Health risks in late adulthood include greater vulnerability to injuries and infections, and an increase in non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, strokes and hypertension. These are made worse by a lifetime of poor diet, arduous physical labour, multiple pregnancies and inadequate reproductive health care.

Cognitive development


Piaget’s stage of cognitive development in adolescence

Within Piaget’s developmental framework, adolescence is characterised by the development of formal operational thinking. This form of cognition suggests an ability to think more abstractly, more hypothetically and more logically. The abstract component of this thinking is reflected in increased problem-solving abilities, such as the ability to solve abstract mathematical equations. The logical component, which Piaget called hypothetico-deductive thinking, is manifested in the ability and desire to plan actively and problem-solve.

Formal operational thinking is also more idealistic and uses less concrete conceptualisation (Santrock, 2007). The idealisation component, which is linked to the dominance of abstract thinking, is evident in the tendency of adolescents to construct ideal images of themselves, others and the social world. Idealism emerges out of the adolescent’s increased ability to apply reason, and manifests in an attraction to political and humanitarian causes (Hughes, 2002).

The ability to think critically is another aspect of the development of formal operational thought. Critical thinking allows the young person to begin questioning aspects of his/her life that were previously assumed, and is likely to facilitate creative thinking as well.

Piaget’s belief that formal operational thinking is achieved in adolescence has been challenged (Hewstone, Fincham & Foster, 2005). It seems adolescents do show cognitive development in several areas; however, ’only small proportions of adolescents perform sufficiently well to meet the criteria for formal operational reasoning’ Hewstone et al. (2005, p. 205).

Implications of cognitive changes in adolescents

Developmental psychologists have described a number of implications of these cognitive changes in adolescents. Adolescent egocentrism, which refers to the adolescent’s preoccupation with the self and related self-consciousness, constitutes one of the primary results of these changes (Elkind, 1967, 1976). Theorists describe how the adolescent’s focus on self-reflection extends to a preoccupation with thoughts about the self, which may exacerbate their growing self-consciousness owing to physical changes in their bodies (Santrock, 2007).

The effects of egocentrism in formal operational thinking have been described using the concepts of personal myths, the invincibility fable and the imaginary audience (Dacey et al., 2008). Personal myths refer to adolescents’ fantasies about themselves as unique and special, while the related invincibility fable involves unrealistic ideas about themselves as invincible and untouchable. The latter is obviously particularly dangerous in the current context of HIV/AIDS, as an adolescent may believe, as many studies have shown, that ’it can’t happen to me’ — which may facilitate increased risk-taking behaviour (Dacey et al., 2008). The imaginary audience refers to an adolescent’s self-consciousness and self-centredness, which stems from the belief that the adolescent is always the centre of focus in any situation.

The impact of culture and social norms

on cognitive development

As emphasised earlier, culture, gender, social norms and social expectations also impact on cognitive development. Some theorists have argued that culture may not only influence the rate of cognitive development, but also the mode of thinking that develops (Rogoff in Shaffer & Kipp, 2007). Others have shown that our ideas of mature cognition may be sexist because they idealise what is considered positive for mature men rather than what is expected of women. Mature cognitive development is generally viewed as characterised by rationality, independence and self-sufficiency, which are traditionally male characteristics, as opposed to emotional sensitivity, sensitivity to relationships and interdependence, which are traditionally seen as feminine qualities.


•For Piaget, adolescence is characterised by the development of formal operational thinking; this involves the ability to think more abstractly, more hypothetically and more logically.

•The logical component is called hypothetico-deductive thinking.

•Adolescents tend to construct ideal images of themselves, others and the social world.

•They also begin to think critically and more creatively.

•Some theorists argue that formal operational thinking is only uncommonly achieved in adolescence.

•Adolescent cognitive changes lead to egocentrism and growing self-consciousness; adolescent thinking also tends to use personal myths, the invincibility fable and an imaginary audience.

•Culture and social norms influence adolescent cognitive development, particularly in terms of gender norms and expectations.

Early adulthood

As discussed above, according to Piaget (Cockcroft, 2002; Zimbardo, Johnson & McCann, 2012), the peak of cognitive development is reached when the individual becomes capable of formal operational thinking, which occurs during adolescence. However, this position is contested by several writers (see Thomas, 2001). During early adulthood, according to these writers, cognitive development progresses beyond formal operational thinking. Furthermore, thinking during early adulthood is more complex, more global and more adaptive than the formal operational thinking of adolescence generally allows for. They argue that during early adulthood, thinking is less absolute and abstract than during adolescence, and therefore allows the individual to deal with unpredictable challenges and the practical problems of life much more effectively (Thomas, 2001).

Middle adulthood

Age-related changes in middle adulthood are highly variable and this trend increases with age (Thomas, 2012). Episodic memory declines steadily during adulthood, although some research has shown a steeper drop in early middle adulthood (Thomas, 2012). However, for many individuals, cognitive functioning does not show any dramatic decline during middle adulthood. On the whole, during middle adulthood, the individual’s cognitive abilities may be as good as during early adulthood. Some research even shows that reasoning and verbal skills may actually improve during this stage (Phillips, 2011). Furthermore, studies reveal that for scholars and scientists, the period from 40 to 60 years is characterised by fairly steady intellectual productivity or output, which is generally well above the levels attained by their counterparts who are in their twenties (Jones, Reedy & Weinberg, 2014). To a certain extent, this trend can be explained by the idea of crystallised intelligence as it represents an increasing fund of knowledge (Phillips, 2011; Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2005) (see Box 4.3).


One theory suggests that there are two kinds of intelligence, namely fluid intelligence and crystallised intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is said to influence speed of thinking, inductive reasoning and short-term memory, and is thought to be based primarily on the speed and efficiency of neurological factors. Thus, this kind of intelligence is thought to depend on the functioning of the nervous system. It is believed to increase until late adolescence and then decline throughout adulthood, as the nervous system deteriorates (Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2005).

On the other hand, crystallised intelligence refers to the individual’s acquired knowledge (e.g. vocabulary, general information about the world) and is based in the person’s experience. Unlike fluid intelligence, crystallised intelligence is believed to increase throughout the life span, or for as long as people are capable of absorbing information (Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2005).

Late adulthood

The cognitive abilities of older adults may decrease in late adulthood, in particular the ability to rapidly and flexibly manipulate ideas and symbols. Reasoning, mathematical ability, comprehension, novel problem solving and working memory all decline over this period (Thomas, 2012). However, memory for verbal knowledge, general information and performance of skill are all retained into late adulthood (Thomas, 2012), although there may be a decrease in the complexity of thought (Sadock & Sadock, 2011).

Alzheimer’s disease is a dementia that may affect older people. It is a degenerative brain disorder that results in a decline in intelligence, awareness and the ability to control bodily functions. Between 6 and 10 per cent cent of people over the age of 65 years, and between 20 to 50 per cent of people over the age of 85 years, report a decline in cognitive functioning solely as a result of Alzheimer’s disease. It is the most prevalent and feared dementia that may affect older people. At present there are various theories about what causes this disorder (Woods, 2005).


•For Piaget, formal operational thinking has already developed in early adulthood. Several other writers argue that cognitive development progresses beyond formal operational thinking.

•Thinking during early adulthood is more complex, more global and more adaptive than the formal operational thinking of adolescence generally allows for.

•They argue that during early adulthood, thinking is less absolute and abstract than during adolescence, and this allows the individual to deal with unpredictable challenges and problems of life much more effectively.

•Age-related changes in middle adulthood are highly variable and this trend increases with age.

•Fluid intelligence declines steadily during adulthood; however, rapid decline in cognitive abilities is unlikely.

•For some, this period is highly productive, as crystallised intelligence continues to expand.

•The cognitive abilities of older adults may decrease in late adulthood, especially in terms of fluid intelligence; crystallised intelligence is retained into late adulthood.

•Some older adults may develop dementia; Alzheimer’s dementia is a degenerative brain disorder that results in a decline in intelligence, awareness and the ability to control bodily functions.

Social and emotional development


As suggested earlier in the chapter, many people see adolescence as a time of upheaval and difficulty; however, this experience is not universal. In addition, how theorists see adolescence also differs. Matusi and Hindin (2011, p. 500) note that social scientists often take a more positive view of adolescence, whereas public health practitioners ’tend to focus more on mortality, morbidity and health-related behaviours’. Matusi and Hindin (2011) also note that contemporary adolescents are approaching adulthood in a world quite different from previous generations and one that is moreover fraught with challenges. It is hoped, nevertheless, that they are able to find some fun and pleasure in their lives!

Erikson’s psychosocial stage of development in adolescence

Identity is the key issue highlighted in theories of adolescent personality development. In Erikson’s theory, adolescence falls into the fifth of eight stages, namely identity versus identity confusion (see Figure 3.10 for a diagram of the eight stages). According to Erikson, each stage that we pass through involves a crisis for the developing self. For the adolescent, this crisis refers to struggling and experimenting with conflicting identities as the individual moves from the security of childhood to develop an autonomous adult identity. Those who do not adequately resolve the conflict of this stage will suffer from identity confusion, which may take a range of problematic forms, such as social isolation and loss of identity in groups, among others. The successful resolution of the identity crisis will mean the achievement of a settled, stable and mature identity.

However, Erikson has been criticised for the rigid way in which he has theorised identity, as well as the idea that identity formation is largely established in adolescence. Newer theories of identity, including post-modern notions of subjectivity, increasingly view identity as far more flexible and fluid than previously thought. These newer theories suggest that identity may change across different contexts and throughout the individual’s life span (see Box 4.4).


Most traditional psychological theories assume a process whereby all human psyches develop into stable, unitary and rational personalities (see Chapter 5). The idea of an inherent and unchanging personality is evident in the wide range of psychological assessment tools that measure types of personality (e.g. introvert versus extrovert), gender identity (e.g. an androgynous identity versus a stereotypically male or female identity), among others. Many of these assessment tests will be carried out at an early age and, based on the outcomes, the child will be categorised and channelled in different ways. These instruments are believed to identify inherent (genetic, biological) traits and life-long, enduring and unchanging characteristics of the personality. There is little space in this construction of identity for change and multiplicity.

Following a broader philosophical shift in social theory, some psychologists are beginning to question the rigid way in which we view identity. Social-constructionist psychologists, for example, highlight the way in which the self is constructed in culture and may shift and change in different social contexts. This explains why a child may appear to be introverted and shy in the school classroom, yet noisy and confident in the home environment. Currently, psychological theories themselves are being evaluated and shown to reflect broader ideologies that regulate and control human behaviour. For example, it has been well illustrated how the entire field of IQ testing has served to legitimise racism and reproduce social inequalities between different groups of people across the lines of colour, class and gender.

In a challenge to traditional psychological theories, contemporary critical psychologists argue that the self is not a stable, unchanging, rational, coherent and fixed identity. Instead, it is a ’subject’ that is constructed within different contexts and in relation to others and the social world, that shifts and changes, that has many forms and is also partly unconscious and irrational. Based on this understanding, some contemporary psychologists prefer to use the term ’subjectivity’ (as opposed to identity), to highlight how we are all subjected to the social world and its power in constructing how we view ourselves and others. The term ’subjectivity’ also acknowledges that we are active agents who may resist dominant meanings of who and what we are and, to some extent, reconstruct ourselves and our ways of being in the world.

On the other hand, we all experience ourselves as a single ’I’ and speak of ourselves as having a central core of self. Think of how often we talk about our ’true’, ’real’ or ’inner’ self. The idea of being fluid, multiple, shifting and irrational, without a central inner core, is frightening to those of us who have grown up believing in these ideas. Social constructionists will argue that these ideas are so common and ’normal’ that we cannot think of a reality outside of them. What do you think?

Patterns of identity formation

Notwithstanding the recent questioning of identity, identity achievement is still considered essential to normal adolescent development. Attempts have been made to measure states of identity formation as well as identities in the process of being formed. In 1966, James Marcia created an assessment method that could describe the way identity is formed during adolescence (in Shaffer & Kipp, 2007). He focused on two processes identified by Erikson that were central to achieving a mature identity: exploration and commitment. Exploration involves an active exploration of future possibilities where choices that parents have made are re-evaluated, and alternatives that are more personally satisfying are considered. Commitment refers to the extent of a person’s involvement in, and allegiance to, choices he/she makes. By considering combinations of these two processes, Marcia identified four states of adolescent identity formation: identity achievement, identity foreclosure, identity moratorium and identity diffusion (see Figure 4.2).

Identity achievement

In this state, adolescents have gone through a period of decision making and are actively pursuing their goals. When deciding on a career, an adolescent may say: ’I’ve considered all the possibilities and have decided that becoming a psychologist is the career choice best suited to me.’ As shown in Figure 4.2, the state of identity achievement shows active exploration and commitment.

Identity foreclosure

In this state, adolescents are seen to be actively pursuing their goals. However, their choices have not resulted from a re-examination of parental choices; they merely assume the choices their parents have made. Here an adolescent might say: ’I’ve never really given career choice much thought. My mom’s a psychologist, so that’s the career I’ll choose.’ As shown in Figure 4.2, the state of identity foreclosure is depicted by commitment with no exploration.


No commitment


Identity achievement

Identity moratorium

No exploration

Identity foreclosure

Identity diffusion

Figure 4.2 Combining aspects of exploration and commitment, Marcia identified four stages of adolescent formation (adapted from Cole & Cole, 2001)

Identity moratorium

In this state, adolescents remain undecided as to future goals or choices and are in an identity crisis. An adolescent might say: ’I can’t decide. Being a psychologist or a physiotherapist both appeal to me. I’m not sure which one is best for me.’ As shown in Figure 4.2, the state of identity moratorium involves active exploration, but no commitment.

Identity diffusion

In this state, adolescents have explored alternative choices, but have not been able to settle on any one. Asked about career choice, an adolescent may say: ’I don’t give career choice any thought any more. There doesn’t seem to be any career that particularly interests me.’ As shown in Figure 4.2, an adolescent in the state of identity diffusion displays no continuing exploration and no commitment.

Adolescents’ relationships with their community, family and peers

Theorists highlight adolescence as a time when the developing child strives for autonomy from the family and parents, ’pulling away’ from parents and investing more in the peer group. Parent—adolescent conflict has received a lot of attention in the literature on adolescent development. Santrock (2007) asserts that this conflict frequently involves adolescents becoming disillusioned with their parents, and parents attempting to hold onto their control and authority.

However, it has been argued that the conflict between parents and adolescents has been overemphasised, and is not necessarily a universal phenomenon. For example, a study in India found minimal parent—adolescent conflict, and adolescents did not appear to go through the phase, described in Western studies, of constantly challenging their parents (Larson in Santrock, 2007). Moreover, it has been suggested that these everyday conflicts serve an important function in the development of the adolescent into an autonomous adult (Santrock, 2007). A study conducted in Nigeria (Nwoke & Njoku, 2013) found that parents with a higher level of education had more conflict with their adolescent children than those with lower levels of education. They suggested that this was due to these parents taking a more principled stance and therefore exerting more discipline. Nwoke and Njoku (2013) also found that parent—adolescent conflict had both positive and negative effects on adolescents, depending on how these were managed in the family.

While there has been little work in the South African context on the relationship between adolescents and their parents, anecdotal evidence suggests that there is frequently a lack of communication between the two generations (Ramphele, 2002). On the other hand, it should be remembered that many South African children have not grown up in a stereotypical nuclear family, and have frequently been separated from both their mother and father (Ramphele, 2002). It is expected that very different dynamics may exist in South African families from those described in the Western literature that dominates research on adolescents.

Furthermore, the adolescent’s community has historically played a significant role for many South African adolescents, both because of the effect of bonding in the face of oppression, and because of the value placed on community in indigenous cultures. Many young South Africans grew up with a sense of struggle and community that may have impacted to a significant degree on their identities and intra-familial relations.

The role of peers in the adolescent’s life is central. Sullivan’s (1953) work is still cited today to highlight the psychological significance of friendships beginning in early adolescence. Sullivan’s argument that friends play a large role in the well-being of the child, and that this role increases in adolescence, is supported by contemporary research (e.g. Rose & Rudolph, 2006). In addition, given the emphasis on sexuality in the peer group, dating and romantic relationships become a primary focus for many adolescents. It is not surprising, then, that sexuality develops rapidly and becomes a primary emphasis for young adolescents.


Figure 4.3 Peer group pressure can be very powerful in adolescence

Peer group pressure is seen as very powerful in adolescence, and the adolescent has been shown to spend far more time with peers than anyone else. Santrock (2007) argues that conforming to peers is not necessarily negative, as peer groups may also inspire pro-social behaviours. On the other hand, some of the areas of risk for adolescents, such as teenage pregnancy, substance abuse and violence, are clearly areas where peer pressure can play a negative role.

Gender and sexual identity

As discussed earlier in the chapter, the physical changes of adolescence have multiple psychological correlates for young people and will differ from one individual to another, depending on the responses from those around them. Much of the literature points to the ways in which boys and girls experience the onset of puberty differently (Hughes, 2002; Santrock, 2007). (Read Box 4.5 before progressing to the discussion that follows.)

In the South African context, both historical and contemporary studies point to young women having difficult experiences of puberty. Practices such as the forced and immediate placement of girls on contraception and warnings against boys and men are apparently common in many South African communities (Lesch, 2000; Shefer, 1998). These studies show the way in which girls are seen as needing to be protected during their development because they are ’sexually vulnerable’ to ’dangerous’ male sexuality. In this way, young girls are taught that they are passive and vulnerable to men or boys, and that menstruation is a negative, dangerous transition (Shefer, 1998, 1999).

Furthermore, young women face social pressure to maintain an image of innocence, particularly with men, and having sexual knowledge is interpreted as an indication of sexual activity. Consequently, it is very difficult for women to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV/AIDS, since taking protective measures would be interpreted as them having an active sex life.

Boys, on the other hand, appear to be socialised positively into their ’manhood’, with puberty signifying a transition to active sexuality. Nonetheless, manhood appears to be rigidly associated with heterosexuality and the ability to be sexual with many women (Rhodes et al., 2011). Those who do not conform, or who are not successful in this area, may be punished or stigmatised.

Sexual relationships and health risks

It is now widely recognised that HIV/AIDS is one of the biggest challenges facing South Africa. The sexual behaviour of young people, especially adolescents, has increasingly come under the spotlight (Zuma et al., 2010). According to Shisana et al. (2014), 25 per cent of younger adults are infected with HIV, suggesting adults acquire it before the age of 25. Furthermore, Zuma et al. (2010) found that 39 per cent (44.6 per cent males; 35.1 per cent females) had their sexual debut below the age of 16; in addition; multiple partners were more common among those who had an early sexual debut. It is not surprising that teenage pregnancy has long been highlighted as extremely high in many South African communities. Both STIs and unwanted pregnancies are related to the widespread practice of unsafe sex among young people.

Socio-economic factors aside, traditional gender roles clearly play a significant role in the barriers to safe sexual practices. In South Africa, a number of key studies have highlighted the way in which gender power relations affect the sexual relationships between men and women (e.g. Reddy & Dunne, 2007; Shefer, 1999). Studies show how women’s lack of negotiation is strongly associated with socialised sexual practices, which require women to be passive, submissive partners, while men must initiate, be active and lead women in the realm of sexuality (Reddy & Dunne, 2007; Shefer, 1999).

Risk-taking behaviours

Historically, adolescence has been viewed as a phase fraught with problems and much of the literature and research seems to focus on the ’problems’. One of these is the exceptionally high risk-taking behaviours typical of adolescence (Chick & Reyna, 2012). As suggested in the previous section, sexuality is clearly a key area of risk-taking behaviour, especially in the context of the current HIV/AIDS pandemic, but also with respect to STIs and unplanned pregnancies. Another two areas of risk-taking behaviour that are particularly widespread in the South African context are substance abuse and violence.


Source: Shefer (1999)

A study was conducted with the psychology students at the University of the Western Cape, based on their autobiographical essays on their gender and sexual development. This provided insight into South Africans’ experiences of puberty.

Puberty may be constructed as opening up a world of danger for young women.

Young woman: When my mother came to know about my menstruating, she sat me down and gave me a talk about the facts of life. One thing that I clearly remember and that I know I will never forget is her telling me that a woman is like a delicate, fragile piece of glass and that once the glass is broken, it can never be put back together. That was her way of telling me that I was now a woman.

There is much pressure in adolescence to conform to stereotyped gender roles. However, this is not always a positive experience for all young people.

Young woman: Frill dresses did not suit me. I could not put on socks and get my hair done. I was different. I was always dirty. My mother tried to punish me for that behaviour. As I grew up, I found myself in a complex situation. People no longer associated with me. They could not play with or around me. I was in darkness, loneliness. At school it was the same situation. There was playing in groups of boys and girls. They would tease you for playing with the wrong gender group. I would be a victim all the time. I felt inferior and neglected.

Menstruation is frequently constructed as a dangerous transition for girls, as they are viewed as vulnerable to male sexuality and pregnancy. For many young women this has meant having to take contraception at the onset of menstruation:

Young woman: My granny saw stains of blood on my dress. She told me that I was reaching adulthood. She told me that I was menstruating. She told me that if I could use contraception I would not have a baby. She asked me to go with her to the family planning clinic whereby I was comforted by the sister. The sister discussed with me the importance of family planning and teenage pregnancies and also about sexually transmitted diseases. Then the sister discussed with me [the] injection and advantages of it. But the feeling I was having didn’t change, the feeling of embarrassment and anger.

During puberty, there is a strong pressure on young men to take on a ’macho’ masculinity, which means learning to repress any display of emotion.

Young man: At primary school I was a very quiet boy. People said that I was a sissy. When I fail[ed] a subject I would cry like a baby because in our family you must be ’perfect’ like my brother. So I knew that my mother would beat me when I arrived home. At that time I knew a little of gender. Always that men are superior to females. Only females can cry. Men must be brave, and men must wear the pants in the house. From that day I tried to change. Sometimes I get a bad mark or get beaten by the teacher, I will try not to cry and keep it in.

Substance abuse

The abuse of alcohol and drugs has been recognised as a major problem among South African teenagers (Dada et al., 2014; Flisher, Ziervogel, Chalton & Robertson, 1993). Substance abuse appears to be on the increase in South Africa, as it is in other countries such as the US (Dada in Dacey et al., 2014). This is particularly evident in that adolescents make up about a quarter of all those currently abusing substances in the country. Based on data reported in December 2013 by the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) project, it was found that the average age of patients in treatment was 27 to 34 years, while the proportion of patients below 20 years ranged, depending on province, from 16 per cent in the Eastern Cape to 34 per cent in KwaZulu-Natal (Dada et al., 2014).


Source: Steyn, Badenhorst and Kamper (2010)

Much of this chapter is focused on the challenges facing adolescents in South Africa (and worldwide). Steyn et al. (2010) decided to find out from adolescents themselves how they viewed their future in South Africa. They collected data from 1 326 Grade 11 learners (ranging in age from 15 to 19 years) from diverse socio-economic contexts and found that ’a general spirit of optimism exists, paired with a strong desire to escape the trappings of poverty and to fulfil their career and social expectations’ (Steyn et al., 2010, p. 169).

Adolescent substance abuse obviously holds multiple risks for young people. It has been well illustrated that such abuse is strongly associated with academic problems, both in achievement and attendance. Furthermore, substance abuse is related to increased mental health problems (including psychiatric disorders) and for some adolescents culminates in suicidal thoughts and/or actions. Substance abuse is also closely associated with sexual risk taking, further increasing adolescents’ vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and other STIs, as well as unwanted pregnancies (Schantz, 2012).


South Africans have long been exposed to a violent society, and young people in particular have paid the price for such violence (e.g. Ward, Dawes & Matzopoulos, 2013). We are still recovering from the violence of apartheid which the majority of South Africans, who are today adults, grew up with as part of their day-to-day lives. Collins (2013) argues that in contemporary South Africa, violence is still enmeshed in the fabric of our society and that much of this violence is accepted. This is evident in attitudes towards corporal punishment of children, violence in intimate relationships and violence in entertainment, including sport and popular TV programmes like wrestling. Two underlying factors which contribute to the high levels of violence in South African society are ongoing social fragmentation and socio-economic inequities (Ward et al., 2013), which continue to exist and, indeed, deepen.

Some of the more insidious consequences of these high levels of violence include the constraints imposed on the personal development of individuals, the often irreparable damage to relationships, the disruption of family and communal life, and the inappropriate allocation of scarce community resources (Ward et al., 2013).

Gang violence

One of the areas where young people are drawn into violence, both internationally (Dacey et al., 2008) and in South Africa, is through gang cultures. For several decades there has been a growing focus on gangsterism in South Africa (e.g. Pinnock, 1982, 1984), and more recently, on the way in which gender power inequalities manifest in gang cultures (Cooper & Ward, 2013; Salo, 2001). Lamb and Snodgrass (2013) studied young South Africans and described how violence has become normalised in some ’at risk’ (poor and marginalised) communities. The socio-psychological literature argues that gangs provide adolescents with a structured life that they might not have at home, and fulfil a wide range of functions, such as protection, status and a sense of belonging (Dacey et al., 2008).

Interpersonal violence

Given the high rate of violence against women in all societies, and the way in which men and women are socialised to accept traditional gender roles in their relationships, adolescents of both genders are also at risk of being victims or perpetrators of violence (Lamb & Snodgrass, 2013). Gender violence includes coercive sexuality, rape, and physical and emotional abuse. Dartnall and Jewkes (2013) reported that estimates of sexual abuse of women by their boyfriend or husband ranged between 6 and 59 per cent. In addition, two South African studies found, respectively, that 28 and 37 per cent of men have committed rape (Dartnall & Jewkes, 2013).

Some authors have highlighted the way in which violence is used to maintain control over women, and how this control and power are central to what it means to be a ’real man’ in many communities (Wood & Jewkes, 2001). The significance of being a successful ’man’ in the transition to adulthood may mean that male adolescents are vulnerable to the use of violence if this is interwoven with hegemonic male identity.


•Adolescence may or may not be a time of upheaval and difficulty; adolescents do, however, face many challenges in the world today.

•For Erikson, the crisis of adolescence is between identity and identity confusion, i.e. an adolescent must form his/her own independent identity or risk confusion.

•Newer theories suggest that identity may change across different contexts and throughout an individual’s life span.

•Marcia focused on two processes identified by Erikson that are central to achieving a mature identity: exploration and commitment. By combining these processes, Marcia proposed that there are four states of adolescent identity formation: identity achievement, identity foreclosure, identity moratorium and identity diffusion.

•As adolescents attempt to establish autonomy, there may be conflict between them and their caregivers; adolescents becoming disillusioned with parents and parents wanting to retain control and authority. However, there are wide variations between families and cultures in terms of this kind of conflict.

•In South Africa, many adolescents have grown up with a sense of struggle and community that may have impacted on their identity and intra-familial relations.

•The role of peers in the adolescent’s life is central and peer-group pressure may be very powerful, with both positive and negative effects.

•In terms of gender and sexual identity, boys and girls typically experience the onset of puberty differently; girls are often seen as needing to be protected, while boys are often socialised positively into their ’manhood’ and sexual activity.

•Sexual behaviour carries a number of risks (HIV and other STIs, pregnancy); different gender roles seem to apply (passive female, active male).

•Adolescent risk taking may occur in a number of contexts: substance abuse, violence (at school, in gangs, interpersonal/sexual). Many of these contexts intersect with alcohol abuse, for example, which leads to increased risk of violence.

Early adulthood

Early adulthood is generally characterised by the assumption of many critical social roles and responsibilities, including marriage and partnerships, parenting and earning an income to sustain one’s self and dependants. These roles and responsibilities both influence and are influenced by various aspects of psychosocial development during early adult development. However, Zimbardo et al. (2012) note that there now seems to be a transitional stage between adolescence and adulthood where young people, having passed through adolescence, delay taking up traditional adult responsibilities like marriage and parenthood. Studying also delays the establishment of full self-sufficiency (Zimbardo et al., 2012).

Marriage and partnerships

Erik Erikson (in Zimbardo et al., 2012) described the central psychosocial challenge of early adulthood as the resolution of a tension between the drive towards intimacy, on the one hand, and isolation, on the other. This tension is referred to as intimacy versus isolation. As part of their quest for intimacy, many young adults may marry in their mid-20s, although this varies considerably across settings. For example, in many Western societies, there is a growing tendency for young adults to opt for cohabitation rather than marriage, and for marriages to take place later in life (Zimbardo et al., 2012). In other societies (in parts of India, for instance) marriages involving teenagers are not uncommon.

For many young people, marriage enhances their relationships with their partners and also enhances their sense of identity and fulfilment. Indeed, studies have shown that married people appear to be more content and satisfied with life than single people (Grover & Helliwell, 2014). Grover and Helliwell (2014) found that marriage eased the mid-life dip in life satisfaction everywhere except in sub-Saharan Africa. Nonetheless, for many young adults marriage could also result in relationship conflicts, disillusionment with partners, constraining attachments (Sadock & Sadock, 2011) and even violence.


Figure 4.4 Many people get married in early adulthood

A recent study in Tanzania (Nyamhanga & Frumence, 2014) found that just under half of their respondents (44.9 per cent) had experienced physical violence from their intimate partners, while slightly more (47.5 per cent) had been forced to have sex (without a condom). Additionally, female victims of intimate partner violence frequently face an indifferent judicial and police system that routinely denies them assistance and redress (Suffla, Seedat & Nascimento, 2001). Clearly, family violence will influence a young adult’s development and expression of intimacy, as well as his/her general psychosocial development.

Currently, violence is not the only potential threat to the expression and development of intimacy during this stage. Given the interconnectedness of intimacy and adult sexuality (Erikson in Zimbardo et al., 2012), the high levels of HIV/AIDS infection in this country, particularly among young people, may also have a profound impact on the expression and development of intimate partnerships during early adulthood (see Van Dyk & Van Dyk, 2003). More recently, Cooper, Moore and Mantell (2013) studied Xhosa-speaking women living with HIV. They found that there were strong and complex links between gender inequality, marriage and HIV, and that some of these women struggled to achieve intimacy in their relationships. They also found that marriage was a low priority for these women who were more concerned with educating their children.


The formalisation of partnerships in institutionalised arrangements, such as marriage or cohabitation, is often followed by having children. The rearing of these children is still perceived to be women’s work in many societies, although this perception seems to be changing. For both women and men, earning an income is widely recognised as a priority activity. Therefore, the opposing demands of working and child-rearing may generate considerable frustration and anxiety for many women. While some women may successfully negotiate and integrate these tasks (which may result in a sense of independence and achievement for many) (Malone, 2011), the ideal is a situation in which women and men assume equal responsibility for the care of their children.

The task of parenting young children is normally associated with young adulthood. However, the decimation of this age group as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic is severely distorting this association. Already South African society is confronted by large numbers of young children who are currently parented by older siblings or grandparents because of the death of their parents owing to AIDS-related diseases (Joubert & Bradshaw, 2004; Mba, 2005). According to AVERT (2014), globally around 17.8 million children have been orphaned by AIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 15.1 million of these children, with South Africa having the largest number of children (2.5 million) who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS; this represents 63 per cent of all orphans in South Africa.


Work plays a crucial role in the development of the young adult. Not only does it provide a source of income, and thereby allow for a measure of self-sufficiency, but it can also provide an outlet for creative accomplishment, and serve as the source of stimulating relationships with colleagues and increased self-esteem (see Fromm, 1975). A range of factors, including socio-economic status and gender, affect the choice and timing of an individual’s work or occupation (Mhlongo & O’Neill, 2013).

Currently, in South Africa, the availability of employment plays a critical role in an individual’s choice or lack of choice in relation to work or occupation. It is worth noting that during the last decade of the 20th century, South Africa had an average unemployment rate of 30.3 per cent. In January 2014, the unemployment rate had dropped somewhat but still remained high at 25.2 per cent (Statistics South Africa, 2014b).

Research has shown that the inability to find employment, or the loss of employment and income, is extremely stressful and places individuals at a high risk for alcohol dependence, violence, suicide and psychological illness (Sadock & Sadock, 2011). In addition, the intense competition and instability in the job market, largely as a result of globalisation, also leaves many young adult South Africans vulnerable to exploitation, which obviously has an impact on their well-being.

Middle adulthood

Adults in this age range typically have to juggle a range of interests, including family, work, hobbies and self-care (Zimbardo et al., 2012). According to Erikson (in Zimbardo et al., 2012), the primary psychosocial challenge during middle adulthood is to strike a balance between generativity and self-absorption or stagnation. The tension in this challenge is referred to as generativity versus stagnation. Simply stated, generativity refers to the urge and commitment to take care of the next generation, and may be expressed in various ways, including nurturing, teaching, guiding and mentoring children and young adults (Zimbardo et al., 2012).


Source: Mark Tomlinson

On the premise that early attachment experiences exert an influence on the formation of later relationships, particularly with one’s own infants and children, the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) was designed to access adults’ representations of their own attachment relationships during infancy and childhood (George, Kaplan & Main, 1985). It is a semi-structured autobiographical narrative tool in which adults are asked a series of questions about their childhood, such as losses experienced, what growing up was like and how their relationships with their parents/caregivers changed over time. Adults’ presentation, discussion and evaluation of their own attachment-related experiences are thought to be apparent in the coherence with which they relate their experiences to the interviewer. The interviewer then classifies the adults as autonomous, dismissing, preoccupied or unresolved/disorganised.

Adults classified as autonomous are able to relate their early positive and negative attachment experiences in a clear, relevant and concise manner (Cassibba, Granqvist, Costantini & Gatto, 2008). This type of attachment representation promotes secure attachment in the children of these adults (Werner-Wilson & Davenport, 2003).

Adults classified as dismissing discuss their parents in unsupported and contradictory ways. They are unaware of the contradictions in their accounts (Cassibba et al., 2008). This type of attachment representation encourages avoidant attachment in the children of these adults (Werner-Wilson & Davenport, 2003).

Adults classified as preoccupied demonstrate a confused, angry or passive obsession with their attachment figures. When relating their early attachment experiences they tend to become confused or, once they start, they cannot stop speaking (Van IJzendoorn, 1995). Children of these adults tend to develop resistant or ambivalent attachment behaviours (Werner-Wilson & Davenport, 2003).

Unresolved/disorganised adults are classified as such with respect to previous traumatic experiences only. Accounts of their attachment history show a lack of resolution of the trauma. Adults are not classified as unresolved/disorganised only, but are given one of the other three classifications as alternatives. For example, an adult may be classified as preoccupied and, if they have unresolved issues related to early trauma, also as unresolved/disorganised (Cassibba et al., 2008). Children whose parents incorporate unresolved/disorganised characteristics tend to be characterised as disorganised/disoriented (Werner-Wilson & Davenport, 2003).

A crucial distinction between the AAI and the Strange Situation is that the adults assessed using the AAI are not considered securely or insecurely attached, as is the case with infants in the Strange Situation. Rather, they are seen as being in a secure or insecure state of mind as a result of their own attachment histories (Hesse, 1999), which in turn tends to promote certain types of attachment in their children.

Generativity is also expressed in attempts to contribute to and improve society. According to Erikson’s theory, people in middle adulthood who do not express a sense of generativity enter a state of stagnation characterised by self-centred self-absorption typical of earlier stages of development.

Clearly, the individual’s capacity to express their generative urges could be compromised by factors such as poverty. For example, the individual who is constantly battling to keep body and soul together will not have sufficient personal resources and energy to invest in caring for and mentoring others.

The life cycle squeeze

Many people in middle adulthood find themselves in a situation where they do not only have to take responsibility for maturing children, but also for their aging parents whose income cannot sustain them. This is known as the life cycle squeeze or the ’sandwich generation’ (DeRigne & Ferrante, 2012). It has come about because of increased life expectancy, delayed child bearing and smaller families (DeRigne & Ferrante, 2012). It is generally assumed that, in this situation, the poorer the people are, the greater the financial stress they are likely to experience. However, given the disparities in life expectancy between the US and South Africa, one may wonder whether the concept is widely applicable in this country. Paradoxically, many poor communities in South Africa are currently faced by a situation where entire families are dependent on aged family members’ social grants (Khumalo, 2013).

Late adulthood

The older adult has to face and deal with declining independence, retirement and often a reduction in financial resources, transitions in relationships, and the task of constructing a meaningful understanding of their life achievements. In addition to these normative developmental challenges, many older adults in South Africa also have to deal with a number of very difficult social problems, such as high levels of crime, poverty and HIV/AIDS infection. Of all these problems, at the moment the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and its staggering and pervasive impact on the health and stability of households and familial relationships, appears to be the most salient and daunting. Already it is clear that the consequences of the HIV/AIDS pandemic are impacting profoundly on the social and familial demands of the surviving older adults, particularly in relation to caregiving responsibilities (see Box 4.8).

Retirement and economic adjustments

During this period, the older adult is likely to have retired from a full-time occupation, which could result in a range of economic adjustments. The physical decline brought on by aging reduces an individual’s ability to contribute to inter-generational households, and to remain economically self-sufficient. Older people, particularly those living in rural areas, are often the poorest and most vulnerable group in developing countries (Bradshaw, Johnson, Schneider, Bourne & Dorrington, 2002).

In South Africa, nearly three million people (about 5.5 per cent) receive a government pension. But, as noted above, while a government pension is meant to support one elderly person, it is often the case that many other family members rely on that pension as well (Khumalo, 2013). Moreover, current estimates suggest that 40 per cent of households are headed by an older person in the absence of parents in early or middle adulthood, with this proportion rapidly increasing because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.


Figure 4.5 A granny-headed household

The old-age financial grant is arguably a lifeline to a substantial number of households in South Africa. Unfortunately, this often leads to elderly people being abused for access to this money. This abuse may take the form of neglect, or physical or psychological abuse, especially of more dependent older adults. Neglect may involve the withholding of food, shelter, clothing or medical care. Abuse may involve psychological torment such as a scolding, insults or threats of physical violence as well as actual physical violence in the form of beatings, punching or burning (Joubert & Bradshaw, 2004). While anecdotal information points to widespread elder abuse in South Africa, very limited research-based data and empirical data are available regarding the extent of this abuse.


Source: Wilhelm-Solomon (2003)

Magdalene Segomela lives in a tiny, one-roomed house in Alexandra, with her two grandchildren, Mpho and Paul. Though old and sickly, Magdalene Segomela conveys an image of determined strength and a sense that she has come to accept her life. She laughs a lot, even though her laughter tends to be tinged with sadness.

Granny Segomela and her grandchildren moved into her little house in Alexandra after they were forced out of their previous home by the malicious taunting of their neighbours. The taunting was a result of the fact that her daughter was HIV-positive, and had died of AIDS-related illnesses in 1999. Her granddaughter, Mpho, 10 years old, was born with the virus, and Granny Segomela does not possess the wherewithal to obtain all the necessary medication for Mpho. The reality is that Segomela has to support herself and her grandchildren on her small monthly pension.

Granny Segomela is also one of many grandmothers who are part of a support group, started and organised by nursing sister Rose Letwaba of the Alex-Tara Children’s Clinic. Letwaba had seen that there was a need to provide some form of support for grandmothers who had to look after their grandchildren orphaned by AIDS. ’Every time when the grannies were bringing the children, I could see the sadness. So I thought maybe by bringing the grannies together and sharing their experience of loss, they could really comfort each other,’ Letwaba explained.

Family and social roles

As indicated earlier, for many people old age remains a period of continued emotional and social growth (Sadock & Sadock, 2011). For others, late adulthood often becomes a more inward-looking, cautious and conforming time. Family roles seem more androgynous, with males appearing more nurturing and females becoming more assertive. This may be especially apparent in grandparenting roles (Sadock & Sadock, 2011).

As already observed, in South Africa, the psychological challenges for many older people have changed profoundly with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, with marked and more sustained reversal of care roles (see the discussion on the life cycle squeeze). The HIV/AIDS pandemic has put considerable pressure on the older and especially the poorer South Africans, who will be more likely to have to care for their adult children who suffer from AIDS as well as their orphaned grandchildren (Kuo & Operario, 2011; see also Box 4.8).

There is also increasing pressure on aged grandparents to deal with the psychological, social and income losses within their children’s families. These individuals are likely to be emotionally exhausted with the care for and loss of their children, as well as the demands of the altered family structure. In particular, the carers’ own physical and mental needs may be neglected (Kuo & Operario, 2011). Instead of being cared for themselves by their adult children or the social-security system, they will be back in the role of caregiver (Kuo & Operario, 2011). Therefore there is a need for alternative models of community care to be further developed, together with forms of state assistance in caring for adult AIDS sufferers and, eventually, their orphaned children and indigent parents (Kuo & Operario, 2011).

Death and dying

Death and dying are realities that humans face throughout their lives. However, at no time in their lives are people as conscious of their own mortality as during late adulthood, when they start losing a growing number of their peers to death, and when they increasingly become aware of the frailty of their own bodies, largely as a result of a growing susceptibility to illness.

According to Erikson (Zimbardo et al., 2012), late adulthood is typically characterised by a re-examination and integration of past events and experiences. It is argued that older people need to confront a tension around integrating their life experiences and stories, versus a despair over the inability to relive their lives differently. This tension is referred to as integrity versus despair. People who succeed in resolving this tension are able to meaningfully integrate their past experiences, often into a wisdom that Erikson & Erikson (1982, p. 67) described as an ’informed and detached concern with life itself in the face of death itself’. When death is imminent, people generally wish to die with dignity, love, affection and physical contact, and without pain, and may wish to be comforted by their religious faith, their achievements, and the love of their family and friends.


•Early adulthood sees the assumption of many critical social roles and responsibilities, including marriage or partnerships, parenting and earning an income.

•There now seems to be a transitional stage between adolescence and adulthood.

•For Erikson, the crisis of early adulthood is between intimacy and isolation. Intimacy may be achieved through marriage or cohabitation. If people fail to establish intimate relationships, they risk being alone and lonely.

•Marriage may bring happiness and satisfaction or there may be violence and abuse.

•Intimate relationships are threatened by the risk of HIV infection.

•Parenthood is a feature of this period. Although it is often not the case, ideally women and men should share responsibility for child care.

•The HIV pandemic has decimated this age group, leaving many children orphaned.

•Work plays a crucial role in the development of the young adult, allowing for self-sufficiency and satisfaction; unemployment places people at physical and psychological risk.

•Adults in middle adulthood have to juggle a range of interests, including family, work, hobbies and self-care.

•For Erikson, the crisis of middle adulthood is between generativity and stagnation; if people fail to contribute to their community, they risk falling into self-centred self-absorption.

•People in this stage may find themselves squeezed between the needs of their children and their parents.

•The older adult has to deal with declining independence, retirement and often a reduction in financial resources; there are also transitions in relationships, and the task of constructing a meaningful understanding of their life achievements.

•In South Africa, many older adults in South Africa also have to deal with a number of difficult social problems; due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, many older people find themselves responsible for child care.

•For many, retirement brings about a range of economic adjustments. Many South African elderly receive a social pension; however, elderly people may be abused or neglected for access to this money.

•In late adulthood, people often become more inward looking, cautious and conforming. Family roles may be reversed and the elderly may struggle to cope with the various losses their life now entails.

•People in late adulthood become more conscious of their own mortality; they are more vulnerable to certain illnesses.

•For Erikson, people in late adulthood need to attempt to integrate their life experiences. If they fail to do this, they risk despair over the inability to relive their lives differently.

•When death comes, people wish to die with dignity, love, affection, and physical and spiritual comfort.


How do people typically relate to life and social functioning during late adulthood? Do they become more withdrawn from life now that they are in retirement and no longer capable of the same levels of activity as earlier in life, or do they become more spontaneous because they now no longer have the responsibilities of caring for dependent children and working? In recent decades, the concept of ’successful aging’ has emerged (Franklin & Tate, 2008), although there is no clear definition of this concept. It does, however, seem to refer to retaining good physical and mental health for as long as possible in late adulthood.

There are a number of theories that reflect the development in ideas about aging. The three most significant are as follows (Franklin & Tate, 2008):

Disengagement theory. According to disengagement theory as proposed by Cumming and Henry in 1961 (Franklin & Tate, 2008), during late adulthood the aging individual progressively disengages from society, and society in turn increasingly disengages from the individual. This disengagement is reflected in the fact that people normally retire from work at this age and they become more passive, and their social circles become more restricted. Disengagement theory is now viewed as ageist; it has, however, sparked debate and controversy in the literature of the aged (Franklin & Tate, 2008).

Activity theory. Developed by Havighurst in 1963 in direct opposition to disengagement theory, activity theory posits that the elderly want, and in fact need to remain active and that they consequently substitute new roles and activities for those they are forced to relinquish, owing to retirement and withdrawal from certain social functions (Franklin & Tate, 2008). One of the primary criticisms of this theory is that heightened levels of social activity are not necessarily synonymous with psychosocial well-being, as implied by this theory.

Continuity theory. Continuity theory is an extension of activity theory, proposed by Atchley in 1989 (Franklin & Tate, 2008). This theory proposes that older adults carry on much as they did before, in terms of their behaviours and preferences. Their life satisfaction is closely related to how consistent they feel their current lifestyle is with their past as well as their ability to adjust to the challenges of aging (Franklin & Tate, 2008).

Clearly, these theories are most applicable to a first-world context where a relatively large proportion of the population is in the over-60 category. Thus, proponents of these opposing theories may have fundamentally different views on the new roles that many South African people in late adulthood have to assume as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.


Traditional research has depicted adolescence as a volatile, ’stormy’ and ultimately problematic stage of life, one in which the developing person is vulnerable to a wide range of risks. In many ways, the adolescent is viewed in traditional literature as controlled by his/her developing body and the physiological changes that take place during this time. This is a very rigid picture of adolescence, which presents adolescence as biologically determined, ignores history, and may also ignore cultural diversity.

While there are clearly risks related to growing up as a teenager in contemporary South Africa, we also need to look critically at the assumptions we make about adolescence and adolescents. This stage of life, like all stages, is one accompanied by numerous changes. There are multiple experiences of being an adolescent that differ across communities, families and individuals. In addition, while we should be conscious of an adolescent’s vulnerabilities, we should also acknowledge young people’s resilience and strength in the face of adversities.

The sections on adult development have outlined some of the key attributes of physical, cognitive and psychosocial changes that are reported to mark adult development. Additionally, the chapter has examined some of the key social threats that constrain optimal adult development in contemporary South Africa, including the high levels of violence, unemployment, poverty and HIV/AIDS infection characterising the South African social landscape. Through its examination of these threats to development, the chapter has attempted to show how optimal human development is systematically compromised, particularly for lower income groups, women and the aged in South Africa — notwithstanding the resilience frequently shown by these groups.

We hope that the content of this chapter will not only provide a greater understanding of the development of adolescents and maturing adults in general, but that it will also serve as a foundation for your study of adolescent and adult development in the South African context.


Imageactivity theory: a theory that posits that the elderly want and need to remain active, and that they consequently substitute new roles and activities for those they are forced to relinquish due to retirement and withdrawal from certain social functions

Imageadolescence: the stage of human development that follows middle childhood and serves as a transition from childhood to adulthood

ImageAdult Attachment Interview (AAI): a semi-structured autobiographical narrative tool designed to access adults’ representations of their own attachment relationships during infancy and childhood

ImageAlzheimer’s disease: a degenerative brain disorder that results in a decline in intelligence, awareness and the ability to control bodily functions

Imageandrogynous: a personality or social orientation that combines positive characteristics that are typically viewed as ’feminine’ with positive characteristics that are generally viewed as ’masculine’

Imageanorexia nervosa: an eating disorder, where people refuse to eat because they imagine themselves to be fat

Imageautonomous: an adult’s state of mind that is assessed by the Adult Attachment Interview and is found to be secure with respect to attachment, where the adult can recall a range of positive and negative feelings about his/her early attachment experiences

Imagebulimia nervosa: an eating disorder where people eat but then privately vomit up what they have eaten, because they imagine themselves to be fat

Imagecohabitation: a term used to refer to two unmarried people living together as intimate partners

Imagecommitment: according to Erikson, a process during adolescent identity formation that refers to the extent of a person’s involvement in, and allegiance to, choices he/she makes

Imagecrystallised intelligence: an individual’s learned ability to process information (including analysis and problem solving), as well as this individual’s vocabulary and general knowledge

Imagedementia: the deterioration of the intellect and personality sometimes associated with the aging processes of late adulthood

Imagedisengagement theory: a theory that posits that during late adulthood the aging individual progressively disengages from society while society, in turn, increasingly disengages from the individual

Imagedismissing: an adult’s state of mind that is assessed by the Adult Attachment Interview and is found to be insecure with respect to attachment, where the adult may minimise attachment behaviours and feelings, and present a picture of being immune to hurt or even being in need of emotional intimacy

Imageearly adulthood: the first stage of adulthood lasting from approximately 20 to 39 years of age

Imageegocentrism: a preoccupation with the self, and a person’s related self-consciousness

Imageexploration: a process proposed by Erikson whereby adolescents actively explore future possibilities where choices that parents have made are re-evaluated, and alternatives that are more personally satisfying are considered

Imagefluid intelligence: an intelligence based on neurological speed and efficiency, which is said to increase until late adolescence and then to decline throughout adulthood

Imageformal operational thinking: within a Piagetian framework, the cognitive thinking that develops during adolescence

Imagegenerativity: an Eriksonian term that refers to the individual’s urge and commitment to take care of the next generation

Imagegenerativity versus stagnation: according to Erikson, the psychosocial challenge for adults in the phase of middle adulthood, when these adults choose to invest energy in the next generation or to indulge themselves instead

Imagehypothetico-deductive thinking: the ability and desire to actively plan and problem-solve, which is characteristic of formal operational thinking

Imageidentity: the positive resolution of the psychosocial crisis where adolescents struggle and experiment with conflicting identities as they move from the security of childhood to develop autonomous adult identities

Imageidentity achievement: a state of adolescent identity formation identified by Marcia, when adolescents have gone through a period of decision making and are actively pursuing their goals

Imageidentity confusion: the unsuccessful resolution of the psychosocial crisis when adolescents struggle to develop an autonomous adult identity

Imageidentity diffusion: a state of adolescent identity formation identified by Marcia, when adolescents have explored alternative choices, but have not been able to settle on any one

Imageidentity foreclosure: a state of adolescent identity formation identified by Marcia, when adolescents are seen to be actively pursuing their goals, although their choices are based on what their parents and others have chosen for them

Imageidentity moratorium: a state of adolescent identity formation identified by Marcia, when adolescents remain undecided as to future goals or choices, and are therefore in an identity crisis

Imageimaginary audience: a term used to refer to the common adolescent assumption that he/she is always the centre of attention

Imageintegrity versus despair: according to Erikson, the psychosocial challenge for adults in the phase of late adulthood, when integrity is achieved through a meaningful understanding of one’s life achievements and despair involves looking back on one’s life with regret and a sense of missed opportunities

Imageintimacy versus isolation: according to Erikson, the psychosocial challenge for adults in the phase of early adulthood, when these adults either form intimate relationships or are left feeling socially isolated

Imageinvincibility fable: adolescents’ unrealistic ideas about themselves as invincible and untouchable

Imagelate adulthood: the final stage of adulthood lasting from approximately 60 years of age until the end of life

Imagemenarche: the beginning of the menstrual cycle in young women

Imagemenopause: a time during middle adulthood when a woman stops menstruating and is no longer able to bear children

Imagemiddle adulthood: the second stage of adulthood lasting approximately between 40 to 59 years of age

Imagepersonal myths: adolescents’ fantasies about themselves as unique and special

Imagepreoccupied: an adult’s state of mind that is assessed by the Adult Attachment Interview and is found to be insecure with respect to attachment, where the adult may struggle with managing anxiety, exaggerate emotion, maintain negative beliefs about the self and respond to loss with unusually intense anger and depression

Imageprimary sexual characteristics: bodily aspects following puberty which are directly related to reproduction

Imagepuberty: a period of rapid physical maturation involving hormonal and bodily changes that occur primarily during early adolescence

Imagesecondary sexual characteristics: bodily aspects following puberty which distinguish the sexes but which are not directly related to reproduction

Imagesenescence: the increasing decline of all the body’s systems (including the cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine and immune systems) during late adulthood

Imagespermarche: the beginning of sperm production in young men

Imagestorm and stress: the way in which adolescence was described by the ’father’ of adolescent psychology, G. Stanley Hall

Imageunresolved/disorganised: an adult’s state of mind that is assessed by the Adult Attachment Interview and is found to show a lack of resolution regarding past traumatic experiences relating to attachment


Multiple choice questions

1._________, known as the ’father of adolescent psychology’, used the term ’__________’ to describe adolescence.

a)Sigmund Freud; ’the phallic stage’

b)G. Stanley Hall; ’storm and stress’

c)Erik Erikson; ’identity versus identity confusion’

d)H.S. Sullivan; ’the importance of friends’.

2.Puberty begins with:

a)hormonal increases which manifest in a range of internal and external bodily changes

b)the knowledge that one is now a man or a woman

c)social rewards for being an adult

d)all of the above.

3.Recent South African research indicates that currently __________ are most at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS:

a)women in the stage of young adulthood

b)men in the stage of young adulthood

c)women in the stage of middle adulthood

d)men in the stage of middle adulthood.

4.The physical experience of middle and late adulthood:

a)generally occurs earlier among lower income, unskilled workers than among higher income professionals

b)generally occurs earlier among higher income professionals than among lower income, unskilled workers

c)is determined exclusively by genetic factors

d)cannot be slowed by diet and exercise.

5.Senescence refers to:

a)the synthesis between feminine and masculine traits

b)the improved efficiency of neurological processes during middle adulthood

c)the individual’s improved intellectual functioning during middle adulthood

d)the decline in the body’s systems during late adulthood.

6.According to Piaget, the adolescent is capable of _______, which refers to an ability to __________.

a)concrete operational thinking; carry out practical and material-based thinking

b)systemic thinking; see things in context

c)formal operational thinking; think more abstractly, more idealistically and more logically

d)imaginary thinking; visualise the future.

7.Fluid intelligence is said to:

a)remain stable throughout adulthood

b)increase throughout adulthood

c)decline throughout adulthood

d)refer to the individual’s learned ability to analyse and solve problems.

8.Personal myths refer to adolescents’:

a)unrealistic notions of invincibility and untouchability

b)fantasies about themselves as unique and special

c)obsession with their body image

d)belief that they are always the focus in any situation.

9.According to Erik Erikson, __________ is the key issue for the adolescent who is in the __________ stage of development, in which the crisis is one of __________.

a)peer pressure; 7th; individuality versus sociability

b)differentiation; 6th; dependence versus independence

c)identity; 5th; identity versus identity confusion

d)parental disengagement; 8th; self versus family.

10.According to Erik Erikson’s theory, the primary psychosocial challenge during middle adulthood is:

a)to strike a balance between generativity and self-absorption or stagnation

b)to strike a balance between intimacy and isolation

c)to confront the tension between identity achievement and identity diffusion

d)to confront the tension between integrating life experiences and the despair resulting from possible missed opportunities in life.

Short-answer questions

1.Reflect on your own adolescence and identify the areas of challenge and change for you.

2.How is adolescence understood and experienced in your community? How is it similar or different to the way in which adolescence has been understood in the traditional, predominantly Western psychological literature?

3.How do you think HIV/AIDS impacts on the contemporary experience of adolescence?

4.The development of gender and sexual identity are a key part of adolescence. Discuss this and draw on your own experiences of becoming a man or woman in your community.

5.Describe the key features of physical development and decline over early, middle and late adulthood.

6.Discuss the major health risks associated with poor health and mortality in the early, middle- and late-adulthood periods of development.

7.Outline the development of cognitive and intellectual attributes and skills across adulthood.

8.The current HIV/AIDS pandemic will profoundly affect the social roles and responsibilities of adults. Critically discuss this assertion.


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