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Adulthood and Aging

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Adulthood and Aging

"Would the childhood version of myself be proud of who I have become?"

This is a question that will make many think back to their childhood and compare it to where they are now. While some did turn into what they dreamed of as a child, others have become people that their younger version never would have imagined.

These two different outcomes are examples of what developmental psychologists look at when studying adulthood and aging.

  • We will first take a look at the definitions for adolescence, adulthood, and old age.
  • Next we will discuss developmental psychology and aging.
  • Then, we will see the theories and factors for adulthood and aging.
  • Lastly, we will view the different social developments for adulthood.

Adolescence, Adulthood, and Old Age

Developmental psychologists have categorized adolescence, adulthood, and old age into specific stages with their own unique characteristics.

Adolescence: The period when you are around 12-20.

Adulthood: The period that consists of people aged 20 to 60 years. Adulthood is broken into two subcategories: young and middle adulthood. Young adulthood consists of people aged 20 to 30 years. Middle adulthood consists of people aged 30 to 60 years.

Old Age: The period that consists of people aged 60 and older.

Developmental psychologists also use the term "Emerging Adulthood" to refer to people aged 18-24. Emerging adulthood connects adolescence and young adulthood, and highlights the transition between these two phases of development.

Adolescence

Adolescence is characterized by biological, cognitive, and social changes. Biological changes include puberty, which is seen in both males and females. Growth spurts can also occur during puberty and impact physical features, which can affect how adolescents view themselves.

Puberty is a process that takes place within the body and signals the transition from being a child to an adult.

Puberty occurs in both males and females, but they do begin at different times.

  • For males, puberty can take place between the ages of 12-16.
  • For females, puberty can take place between the ages of 10-14.

Puberty can come early or late, and it differs from person to person. The age ranges provided above are just estimates.

Growth spurts is a term used to describe the "quick" changes in physical appearance, height, and weight during puberty.

Young Adulthood

Young adulthood, or early adulthood, describes those aged 20-30. This period is characterized by social and emotional changes. Young adulthood involves many social changes, so we'll list a few that can be used to describe the majority of this population.

  • Experiencing college or trade school

  • Establishing a career

  • Establishing a space of living (e.g. house or apartment)

The three social changes listed above are important because they teach young adults responsibility, independence, and autonomy. These social changes encourage young adults to find their place in society and to create a foundation for the rest of their adulthood. As for emotional changes, young adults establish relationships that encourage emotional maturity and help the young adult find a community.

Middle Adulthood

Middle adulthood describes those aged 30-60. This period is exhibited by biological and social changes. Biological changes in this age group are with regard to overall health; health can decline due to wear and tear as we age. As we age, our mental and physical capacity will also decrease. As for social changes, marriage and the start of families are common during this time frame Those events can impact work, one's social life, and current state of living.

Old Age

Old age describes people aged 60 and over. This period exhibits biological and social changes. There are many illnesses associated with old age, among them Alzheimer's, arthritis, and heart disease.

Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia. This disease is progressive and causes changes in memory and cognitive processes. There is no cure for Alzheimer's (for now).

There are 6 million people in the US currently living with Alzheimer's (2020). This number is projected to triple by the year 2050.

As for social changes, mobility also declines as we age. This impacts the social lives of older adults, as they are unable to do the social activities they enjoyed during young and middle adulthood. However, research has shown that older adults, who can stay mobile, prefer to be social and active.

Adulthood and Aging An active older couple walking while holding hands StudySmarterSocial activities for older adults, pixabay.com

Developmental Psychology and Aging

Aging is the process of becoming old.

The goal of developmental psychology is to observe the growth, changes, and consistencies that take place during one's life span. Aging is an important aspect in this field; as people age, different types of developments can occur. Such developments can be seen through Eric Erikson's Psychosocial Stages of Development.

Erikson's Psychosocial Stages of Development describe eight stages that show the progression of personality development. These stages are divided by age group.

Erikson's eight stages show personality development, goals, conflicts, and important events that should occur during that age range. The stages corresponding to adolescence and older are below:

  • Stage Six

    • Young adulthood (19-40)

  • Stage Seven

    • Middle adulthood (40-65)

  • Stage Eight

    • Maturity (65 years and over)

Theories of Adulthood and Aging

Daniel Levinson theorized that, in adulthood, everyone has a life structure. These life structures depend on seasons of life (i.e. moments in one's life). There are two main seasons that all adults go through, the Stable Period, and the Transitional Period.

Life Structures: An overarching term used to represent key aspects in one's life. Those aspects are social gatherings, work-life balance, romantic relationships, and personal life.

The Stable Period refers to times in adulthood when aspects of life remain the same.

Jake enjoys his current career and wants to stay in it for as long as possible.

The Transitional Period is the end of a life stage, and the beginning of a new one.

Sasha was married at 29, but filed for divorce five years later. This signals the transitional period of her life.

Levinson also talked about what we call a mid-life crisis. This is when an adult questions all aspects of their life. Questions such as "Am I where I want to be?", and "is this what I want for my life?", arise.

A Mid-life crisis occurs when an adult experiences a change in self-identity and confidence.

Factors that Influence Aging

Aging is a part of life. However, factors such as biological, social, and cognitive changes play a key role in how we age. Biological changes are usually evidenced by our health; as we age, our health declines. Our health can be felt internally and shown externally through age markers such as graying hair and wrinkles. As we age, we are more likely to be diagnosed with illnesses, but it could be simple wear and tear that causes stress to bear down on the body.

Social changes occur throughout adulthood. These changes can be caused by the different relationships we create. Humans are social creatures who rely on interaction; however, other parts of life can take over sometimes, and our social life diminishes or decreases as our focus is shifted elsewhere.

Cognitive changes also impact the aging process, as our thoughts, motivations, and mental processes do change over time. These can affect our aging process; stress, mental disorders, and our self-identity can correlate to adulthood development.

Social Processes and Development in Adulthood and Aging

In early adulthood, one's social development is starting to evolve from that of an adolescent. Transitions such as college and starting a career usually occur at this stage. In adolescence, the now-adult relied on family and friends, formed from proximity, for social interaction. However, due to changes in the environment, the adult must create a place for themselves within their new space (be it in their college classes or new workplace). They must form connections on their own. Social interaction is critical at this stage because this is also the point at which long-lasting relationships are formed. As for health, the majority within this category are healthy and active adults.

In middle adulthood, social development can be considered fully formed and is evidenced by marriage, the creation of one's own family, a stable friend group, or the formation of a small community. Marriage and kids are not in everyone's plan, but having a steady form of social interaction is crucial because it fulfills the feeling of being in a community. In terms of health, the aging process is starting to show, and physical changes in hair, weight, and facial features (e.g. wrinkles) are noticeable. Also, aches and pains are more common when compared to those in early adulthood.

Adulthood and Aging - Key takeaways

  • There are three stages of adulthood; early, middle, and late adulthood. Late adulthood is "Old age".
    • Early adulthood includes those aged 20-30.
    • Middle adulthood includes those aged 30-60. This can also be referred to as mature adulthood.
    • Late adulthood includes those aged 60 and older.
  • There are two major theories of aging: disengagement theory and activity theory.
    • Disengagement theory says that people withdraw from society as they age.
    • Activity theory says that older people are happier when they have social interaction and partake in activities.

Frequently Asked Questions about Adulthood and Aging

Young adulthood (better known as "early adulthood") includes people aged 20-30. 


Middle adulthood (also referred to as "mature adulthood") includes people aged 30-60. 

Early adulthood is for people aged 20-30 years. 


The health and social lives of people in this age group should be more active in comparison to those in middle and late adulthood. 

Physical changes such as signs of aging and decline in health occur during middle and late adulthood, but the depth of change can vary from person to person. 

"Adulthood and Aging" is a core concept within the field of Developmental Psychology. It focuses on how we develop as we age and go through the different stages of adulthood (there are 3 stages). 

The three stages of adulthood are as follows: 

  1. Early adulthood: The people in this group are aged 20 to 30 years old.
  2. Middle adulthood: The people in this group are aged 30 to 60 years old. This group can also be referred to as "mature adulthood". 
  3. Late adulthood: The people in this group are aged 60 years and older. 

Final Adulthood and Aging Quiz

Question

What physical changes occur during middle age and late adulthood?  

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Answer

Physical changes such as signs of aging and decline in health can occur during middle and late adulthood, but the depth of change can vary from person to person. 

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Question

What is "adulthood and aging"?

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Answer

"Adulthood and Aging" is a core concept within the field of Developmental Psychology. It focuses on how we develop as we age and go through the different stages of adulthood (there are three stages).  

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Question

How many stages of adulthood are there? 

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Three

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What are the three stages of adulthood? 

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  1. Early adulthood
  2. Middle adulthood 
  3. Late adulthood 

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What is the age range for early adulthood? 

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20-30 years  

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What is the age range for middle adulthood? 

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30-60 years

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What is the age range for late adulthood?

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60 years and older 

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What are the two major theories of aging? 

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  1. Disengagement theory 
  2. Activity theory 

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Who created the Disengagement theory of aging? 

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Cumming and Henry

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Who created the Activity theory of aging? 

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Robert J. Havighurst 

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What is the disengagement theory of aging? 

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This theory posits that older people (in late adulthood) willingly withdraw from society. It is a natural process, as inevitable as growing old and dying.  

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What is the activity theory of aging? 

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This theory proposes that older adults (in late adulthood) are happier when engaging in activities that involve social interactions and staying engaged. 

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Question

What is the age range for "infancy"? 

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Newborn - 18 months  

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What is the age range for early childhood? 

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18 months-3 years 

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What is the age range for middle childhood? 

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3-5 years  

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What is the age range for late childhood? 

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5-12 years  

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What is the age range for adolescence? 

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12-19 years. 

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True or False? Social development in adulthood is shaped by age and development.

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False. It is primarily shaped by life events.

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According to Erik Erikson, what psychosocial stages of development occur during adulthood?

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Answer

Intimacy vs. Isolation

Generativity vs Stagnation

Integrity vs Despair 

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At what age is a person likely operating at the Generativity vs Stagnation stage of development?


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40-65 

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_________ is a set of norms outlining a culture's preferred timing of life events such as marriage, parenthood, and retirement.  

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Social clock

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Sigmund Freud stated that "the healthy adult is one who can ____ and ____"

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love; work

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_______ is the process during which a person feels more appreciated, understood, and cared for by sharing personal thoughts and feelings with another. 


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Intimacy

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True or False? A job that fits a person’s interests and gives them a sense of accomplishment is not often a significant source of happiness.


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False

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During the ___________ of career interests, we begin to actively pursue the career through education and training.

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exploration stage

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Marriage is a predictor of which of the following?

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Marriage is a predictor of all of these.

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True or False? Divorce rates are known to be higher for couples who live together before marriage

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True

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True or False? The idea that reaching the age of middle adulthood alone triggers deep dissatisfaction and crisis in a person's life is usually true.

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False

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For older adults (65-death), generativity is ________ important .


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less

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Which of the following is not a possible factor in a person's decision to retire.

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All of these are factors

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True or False? Brain scans show that the amygdala is less reactive to negative events in older adults. 


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True

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Sarah is beginning to reflect on her life. She generally feels satisfied with how she's lived through the previous stages of her life.  According to Erik Erikson, what stage in development is Sarah likely at?

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Integrity vs. Despair

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True or False?  Piaget’s theory of development suggests that formal operational thinking begins during adolescence and continues throughout life.

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True

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Postformal operational thinking refers to a type of thinking occurring in adulthood that is _________ and realistic than in previous developmental stages.

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more practical

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Adult thinking is more dialectical. What does this mean? different viewpoints.


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That rather than viewing a situation in black and white, a they are able to see several

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True or False? One's proximity to death is less of a predictor of cognitive decline than age. 


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False

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True or False? Either way, to assume that older adults are wise simply due to their age may be an inappropriate stereotype. 

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True

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While ________ information takes a major hit in adulthood, _________ information does not decline as quickly.

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recalling ; recognizing

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What is true about older adults ability to complete time-based tasks compared to younger adults.

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Older adults are slower than younger adults

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True or False? However, fluid intelligence typically declines at a faster rate than crystallized intelligence. 


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True

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What did Schaie's Seattle Longitudinal Study find?

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 Schaie (1996, 2006) found that most intellectual abilities remain stable throughout early and middle adulthood and do not begin to decline until late adulthood.

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Which of the following is not considered a neurocognitive disorder?

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Color blindness 

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Alzheimer's disease accounts for approximately __________ of all neurocognitive disorder cases


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two-thirds

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In the brain of Alzheimer's patients, the neurons that produce ___________, a neurotransmitter responsible for memory, begin to deteriorate.

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acetylcholine

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True or False? No specific genes have been identified as risk factors for frontotemporal dementia, late-onset Alzheimer's, and early-onset Alzheimer's.

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False

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Which of the following does not affect cognitive development in adulthood? 

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Marital status

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Perceptual speed can begin to decline during the ______ and will from there show a steady decline.

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early 20s

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What is the definition of death medically speaking?

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Death is the event in which circulatory and respiratory functions cease irreversibly or, the event in which brain functions, including the brain stem, cease irreversibly.

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True or False? Both medical and cultural definitions of death are universal. 

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False. Cultural definitions of death can vary greatly.

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What is the difference between an acceptable death and a good death?

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An acceptable death is simply one that is not dramatic while a good death allows for a person and their loved ones to prepare for death.

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