Adult and Older Adult Development Theories

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  • 0:01 Development in Adulthood
  • 0:25 Adult Development Theories
  • 8:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

What kinds of development do adults go through? In this lesson, we will look at four psychologists who discuss the ways adults develop emotionally and mentally.

Development in Adulthood

If you were to consider the emotional and mental development of a human being, you might automatically imagine the growth that happens during childhood. Or maybe you would picture a teenager learning about him or herself and becoming more mature. But inner development does not merely take place during childhood and adolescence. In fact, people continue to learn and change through adulthood, as they deal with new life events, relationships, and experiences.

Adult Development Theories

Just as there are psychologists who researched and wrote about childhood development, there are also those who focused on development through adulthood. While they each take a different and unique perspective, they all agree that development does in fact continue into adulthood. We are now going to look at four well-known psychologists and the theories they each created to describe adult development.

Roger Gould's Theory

The premise beneath Roger Gould's adult development theory is that development takes place with the replacement of childhood responses with ones that are more mature. His belief is that we learned behavior as children that we believed would keep us safe. As we grow, we are challenged to give up those old behaviors when faced with a situation that invites a different and healthier response.

Let's meet 30-year-old Gina. When Gina was eight years old, her father left her and her mother and never contacted them again. Gina never trusted men again. She learned that if she kept men at a distance, she would be emotionally safe. Gina has recently been trying to work on trusting men that are trustworthy. She has been seriously dating a man who wants to marry her, but she finds herself struggling to make that kind of commitment for fear he will later leave her. According to Gould, Gina is caught between her childhood behavior to avoid men and a potentially new response to begin trusting. If she changes this part of herself, she is exhibiting development. However, if she continues to resist change, she will fail to develop.

Daniel Levinson's Theory

Daniel Levinson also created his own theory on adult development. Levinson believed that life is composed of various stages that require us to make decisions, like choosing our life direction. He stated that development takes place as a person moves from one of these stages to another. He listed seven life stages that are typical to one's life journey. They include:

  1. Early adult transition
  2. Entering the adult world
  3. Age 30 transition
  4. Settling down
  5. Mid-life transition
  6. Entering middle adulthood
  7. Late adulthood

Let's meet Larry. We will follow Larry as he grows through his various life stages.

Larry is 18 years old and starts off in early adult transition, when he leaves home to go to college. This is a stage of the initial stages of independence.

When he graduates four years later, he is in the entering the adult world phase, which means he will now be responsible for finding a job and taking care of himself in new ways, like paying bills and developing relationships.

When Larry turns 30, he enters the age 30 transition, which means he is undergoing a new change that brings him into the next season of life. For Larry, this means he is getting married.

After a few years of being married, Larry and his wife, Karen, start having children. They are now entering the settling down stage.

Years later, when Larry is 43, he enters a mid-life transition, or a life crisis, as he wonders if his life has meaning and daydreams about the plans he had when he was in his twenties.

Larry decides to make some changes, like starting to collect antiques and investing more in his relationship with Karen. As he settles into these new projects, while accepting where his life is today, he is entering middle adulthood.

Many years later, when Larry is in his seventies, he is in the late adulthood stage, where his life is stable and he reflects on positive memories and past accomplishments.

William Perry's Theory

Perry focused on adult development but specifically as it applied to young adult students. He believed that young adults develop as they change their perspective from the belief in absolute truth to one of multiple truths. He listed nine steps of development that make up this progression. Let's follow Peter as he develops through those nine stages.

When Peter arrives in college, he is under the assumption that authorities know everything. This is the first stage for young adults. Peter has spent his young life always believing and following the orders of those in authority like his teachers, coach, and parents.

As the year progresses, Peter enters the second stage as he disagrees with the opinion of one of his professors. He starts to believe that only true authorities are correct. This means that others, like Peter's professor, are not true authorities and therefore incorrect.

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