Theories of Adult Development

This assignment will state adult developmental stages using current and influential theorists to date. It will then further discuss whether these developmental stages are largely determined by physical maturation and decline processes.

Adult Development/Adulthood

To understand adult development, we must first define what an adult is. It is not very easy to define a pattern or any stage when a child finally becomes an adult (adulthood), as it can depend on so many issues e.g. physical, mental capacity. No one answer can fit all people as we are all unique. In some cultures young people barely reach their teens and assume the full responsibilities and privileges’ of being an adult; where in other cultures, men and women stay with their parents until they are in their thirties, grappling to get a start at setting up their lives for themselves. In">New">Zealand according to many">New">Zealand Government bodies [i] a child becomes a young person at age 14, at 15 they can start to obtain their drivers licence, at 16 consensual sex can occur and young people can also marry at 16 with parental consent. At 18 young people can vote. Since the ages of 16 parents have not been held responsible for their offspring’s financial support although young people remain under the guardianship of their parents until the age 20. They cannot drink freely until the age 20 and can marry without parental consent at 20. An amendment to the Adult Rights and Responsibilities (Age of Majority) Bill 2010 proposes to change the Age of Majority Act 1970 from 20 to 18 years, also an amendment to the Human Rights Act 1993 to remove the age specificity of 16 years of age or older to the prohibition against age-based discrimination. However, Merriam S.B, Caffarella R.S, Baumgartner L. M. (2007, pg 277) state that [ii] “learning process” in adult development is a major contributor to the which looks at when the learning takes place what happened. According to Levinson [iii] “one element: the concepts of Life Course and Life Cycle, which provide an essential framework for the Adult Development.” Therefore Foley states (2004) pg 15 [iv] “We learn by doing, and learning engages our intellects, bodies and emotions.” In my experience over my life time I do better by learning through engagement and hands on experience.

Lefrancois states [v] “Erikson believes that development does not end with adolescence but continues through the entire lifespan.” Lefrancois, G. (1999)

Human Development

The human development [vi] according to Papalia, D olds, S Feldman R (2001) is a study of steadiness throughout and life’s changes. The study can be linked to maturity, which involves appropriate behaviour or actions that are established. There are obvious differences such as: gender, talent, and personality.

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Hoare C (2006) [vii] suggests that there is a relationship between adult development and learning. Some of the other development characteristics like community; emotional, self-efficacy and insight are mutually dependent with learning. However, Drewery, W & Bird, L (2004 pg 29) [viii] “It is the essence of Maori knowledge.” Màori human development is embodied in the Màori standard of life that they lead. Therefore Cavanaugh Blanche-Fields (2006) states [ix] “the life-span perspective emphasises that human development takes a lifetime to complete.” My Màori whanau relies on the kaumātua handing down the mana and wisdom to the Màori tàngata whenua within each tribe. The Màori cultural meanings and principles are energetically lived and felt by the people.

Adult Learning

Fenwick & Tennant argue that [x] “Adult learning is neither desirable nor possible, that learning cannot be constructed as a solely mental process existing within the mind of an individual.”

xi”The central nervous system forms the primary biological basis for learning.” Merriam S.B, Caffarella R.S, Baumgartner L. M. (2007, pg 304)

xii”Learning is a process (rather than an end product) focuses on what happens when learning takes place.” states Merriam & Caffarella. Merriam, S & Caffarella, R (1999, pg 250).

Contracting Theories

Clark & Caffarella (1999) [xiii] believe the theory that biological perspective had a large impact on adult development. Other theorists such as [xiv] Cavanaugh J.C & Blanchard-Fields F. (2011) believe that there are three more basic forces other than just a biological component to adult development. However the biological perspective recognises according to Merriam S.B, Caffarella R.S, and Baumgartner L. M. (2007, pg 299) that [xv] “we are physical beings.” and that there are in fact three further components to adult development: psychological, sociocultural and integrative.

The biological component refers to the ability to see and hear which create problems as we age and create problems with the learning process. However, Hoare C (2006, pg 8) [xvi] states “that some declines can also foster important positive results.” in such things as sight and hearing with the advancement of technology. If glasses/contact lenses were not available as bifocals then I would have to carry around two pairs of glasses; one for near reading and one for far reading.

The psychological component as observed by Merriam S.B, Caffarella R.S, Baumgartner L. M. (2007) that they see it is as focusing primarily internal development of an individual as they develop. The sociocultural component recognises factors such as socio-economic status, age, Ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual orientation which affect how the world defines us. Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is the most significant theory adapted. Whereas Loevinger’s theory of ego develops stages, but with emphasis on goals to develop advanced egos.

xvii”Erikson’s theory consists of eight stages of development, each representing a series of crises or issues to be dealt with over the lifespan.” as stated by Merriam S.B, Caffarella R.S, Baumgartner L. M. (2007, pg 306). Each of Erikson’s theory eight stages has a choice of contradictory elements. As an older woman and if I was widowed or my husband was widowed we would have to deal with physical boundaries and decreased resources which could give me grounds to return to earlier issues of Erikson’s trust and identity stage and we would want to leave a legacy behind for our children and grandchildren.

The integrative component is made up of a combination of several models and focuses on change in adaptive ability in adult development. Magnusson’s key to his model stated by Merriam S.B, Caffarella R.S, Baumgartner L. M. (2007, pg 298) states that [xviii] “individuals do not develop in terms of single variable but as a total integrated system.”

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However, Hoare C (2006) pg 15 states [xix] “Although there are negatives associated with advancing age, many adults continue to develop and learn all through their middle, later, and far older years.” Physical change diminishes with age as the body slows down. Sometimes it’s the mind that fails and sometimes it the body, this all depends on our character and cultural makeup. My older sisters have found as they get older that the body and the mind do not keep up with each other.

Viewing development from an integrative frame recognises that [xx] “adults are far too complex to put into one box or another.” Clark, C. & Caffarella, R.S. (1999, pg 6).

xxi”Baltes hypothesized that the relative significance of the three development influences may vary at different points in the life cycle.” Merriam S.B, Caffarella R.S, Baumgartner L. M. (2007, pg 319) and believes that the three major sets of factors between biological and environmental forces consist of:

Normative age-graded influences – such as physical maturation, death of parent and education

Normative history-graded influences – historical events that influence the entire age groups such as economic depressions and wars

Non-normative influences – Impact on individual lives such as disease, and accidents.

Cognitive development

xxii”Cognitive structure focuses on how the learners act versus what they identify with.” states Merriam S.B, Caffarella R.S, Baumgartner L. M, (2007, pg 401). Cognitive development in most 18 year olds and over will have the skills to participate in roles and responsibilities that adults have and are aware of consequences, personal limits plus most have a goal or career path. They develop new skills, hobbies and have a more mature interest in life. My teenagers went to University with a goal in mind and understood what they need to do to achieve their goal. They went through the normal stages of living away from home and having the power and freedom to make their own choices and mistakes. Hopefully my husband and I given them the tools to develop as valuable and productive members of our society.

Cognitive change in middle adulthood show signs of minor functional loss and in late adulthood shows a more substantial loss of cognitive change. In my experience the older I get the harder it is to keep up with the younger learners and the need for extra study is paramount for a successful outcome to my learning. Therefore [xxiii] “Effects to integrate development and learning have focused on why and how we physically age, our psychological makeup, and more recently on how social and cultural forces shape our development (Tennant and Pogson, 1995).” Furthermore Bee & Bjorkland (2004) state that [xxiv] Baltes “lifespan views development as age-related change in adaptive capacity.” However, Bee & Bjorkland (2004) believe Vaillant’s theory of ‘adaptive life’ is “the defense mechanism.” plays a [xxv] ” major form of adaptation.” [xxvi] “Piagets work is entirely focused on childhood cognitive development, his theory has provided the foundation for work with adults.” Merriam S.B, Caffarella R.S, Baumgartner L.M, (2007, pg 326).


The general agreement between theorists is from those studies done over the years that [xxvii] “certain memory functions do decline with age.” Merriam S.B, Caffarella R.S, Baumgartner L.M, (2007, pg 396). Cognitive decline is largely impacting on the decline in old age, as we all age we are more inclined to be more set in your ways, some have no valuable achievement in education (due to depression and war years), being black male (generic health issues) or discontented with your life overall, leads to a faster decline. However, Merriam S.B, Caffarella R.S, (1999, pg 55) [xxviii] “biological aging is a fact of life, although rarely a welcome one. ” Unfortunately for me; life is too short and we have to make the most of very moment, as there may be no tomorrow. According to Schaie K Warner & Willis Sherry L. (1996, pg 89) [xxix] “The emotional response to growing old is loneliness and next to physical dependency it is one of the greatest fears that older people associate with old age.” My mother found it hard and frustrating to cope with a loss in memory in her later years. She struggled with getting old and having to deal with all the issues related with it like; memory, sight, hearing etc. [xxx] “Our increasing longevity stems from overcoming some problems related to secondary aging.” “Improved nutrition, hygiene, medical discoveries and lifestyle changes have accounted for most of this increased longevity.” Merriam Sharan D & Caffarella Rosemary S (1999, pg 57).


The question states that “pattern of stages in their development which are largely determined by physical maturation and decline processes”. I dispute this question as with an ever increasing older aged population we are living longer than ever before du to the technologies now available at our finger tips. Physical aging is quite different in">New">Zealand than other overseas countries like USA They are patterns of stages but also now becoming more evident that the stages are not only ties up with age (Erikson’s theory) but with Baltes theory of environmental needs without stages.



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