Life Influences on Cognitive Development in Early Adulthood

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  • 0:01 Cognitive Development
  • 1:18 College
  • 3:02 Work
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Though adults don't physically grow as they age, they do still grow mentally. In this lesson, we'll look closer at cognitive development in adulthood, including how it is influenced by college and work experiences.

Cognitive Development

Claire is 32. She feels like she's finally starting to hit her stride. She's gotten several promotions in the past few years and is now running her department at work. She loves the challenge of her work and dealing with a bunch of different viewpoints.

Claire is in early adulthood, or the period between adolescence and middle age, which is generally defined as being between ages 20 and 40. During early adulthood, people appear to be fully grown. They no longer get taller, for example, and they understand the world pretty well.

But there are still changes going on in early adulthood. In particular, people continue to grow intellectually, a process called cognitive development. Many people in early adulthood learn how to balance opposing views, for example. They also learn how to balance practicality with social and creative considerations.

Claire knows what this is like. People in her department don't always agree, and she has to see both sides of the disagreement and find the best route. Not only that, but she has to balance budgets and other practical constraints with the feelings of her team and their creative ideas.

Let's look closer at two major influences on cognitive development in early adulthood: college and work.


For many people, college is an important part of early adulthood. Since early adulthood starts around age 20, many people start early adulthood in college.

And college is a major influence on cognitive development. In fact, since cognition has to do with thinking skills, the main point of college is to spur cognitive development in its students. And, for the most part, it works. Studies have shown that higher education leads people to be more tolerant of others' ideas, more flexible and realistic in attitudes and more able to synthesize opposing viewpoints, a cognitive process called dialectical thinking.

Claire knows firsthand how college can influence thinking. She grew up in a small town but went to a big college in a large city. When she started school, she didn't know many people who were different from her. Everyone from her hometown seemed to share the same values and ideas, and most of them were even the same race.

But in college, Claire made friends with people from all over the world. New and different ideas, values and people all came into her life. She had to learn how to accept and get along with people who had vastly different viewpoints from hers.

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