Emerging Adulthood: Cognitive Development
 Postformal Thought -   

Ψ  Compared with adolescent thinking, adult thinking becomes more personal, integrative and practical in response
 to the individual's life experiences and commitment to the responsibilities of career & family. 
 Ψ  Adult thinking is multi contextual.
 Ψ   Developmental theorists have used 3 different approaches to explain the cognitive changes that occur throughout adulthood:     
 1. The stage approach: e.g. Postformal thought is the fifth stage of Piaget's theory of cognitive development.    
        2. The psychometric approach: Much of the early theoretical & applied work in psychometrics was undertaken in an 
        attempt to measure intelligence. More recently, psychometric theory has been applied in the measurement of 
        personality, attitudes and beliefs, academic achievement, and in health-related fields. (see chapter 21 for more info.)
            3. The information-processing approach: proposed that like the computer, the human mind is a system that 
            processes information through the application of logical rules and strategies. (see chapter 24 for more info.) 
Ψ  Postformal thought is a stage in which thinking is less abstract and less absolute than formal operational thought; also 
more adaptive to life's inconsistencies & more dialectical- capable of combining contradictory elements into a 
comprehensive whole.       

Subjective thinking: arises from the personal experiences & individual  perceptions.       

Objective thinking: follows abstract logic.       

     Postformal thought recognizes that one's own perspective is only one of many potentially valid views & that life entails 
many inconsistencies.       
     Postformal thought is well suited to addressing problems that have no single correct solution. Postformal thought is 
more practical, flexible, & more dialectical.       

    Older adults regulate their emotions better than younger ones and are less cognitively and physiologically overwhelmed 
by deep and complex emotions. The ability to combine emotions & logical analysis is particularly useful in responding to 
emotional arousing situations, as when one is being stereotyped.    

•  Stereotype threat  is "the threat of being viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype, or the fear of doing something 
that would inadvertently confirm that stereotype," such as the stereotype that women perform poorly in math. Steele explains 
that some students try to escape stereotype threat by disidentifying with the part of life in which the stereotype originates, 
such as race or ethnic identities. From: "Thin Ice: 'Stereotype Threat' and Black College Students," by Claude M. Steele, 
The Atlantic Monthly http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/99aug/9908stereotype.htm

Ψ  Dialectical Thought (DT): most advanced form of cognition; characterized by ongoing awareness of pros and cons, 
advantages and disadvantages and possibilities and limitations; in daily life involves incorporating beliefs and experiences 
with all the contradictions and inconsistencies of life. 

Three stages of the dialectical process:      

     1. Thesis: Proposition or statement of belief 
       2. Antithesis: Proposition or statement of belief that 
            opposes the thesis 
         3. Synthesis: Reconciliation of thesis & antithesis into a new & more comprehensive level of truth    

       In daily life, DT recognizes that most of life's important questions do not have single, unchangeable, correct answers.       
          Result of DT is a continuously evolving view of oneself & the world. The dialectical thinker gets a broader & more flexible 
      perspective that is better suited to the changing demands of adulthood.        
          DT is more typical of middle-aged than of younger or older adults & is more evident in certain contexts than in others.       
              Characteristics of postformal thought are not universal & do not necessarily build on the prior accomplishments 
          of formal operations.
- Morals & Religion -   

Ψ  The responsibilities, experiences, & concerns of adulthood affect moral reasoning.

Ψ  Re: Kohlberg - In order to be capable of "truly ethical" reasoning, a person must have "the experience" of

•   sustained responsibility for the welfare of others. 
 •   irreversible moral choice.
 Ψ  Re: Gilligan
 •   As all people's experience of life expands, they broaden their moral perspectives.
 •   Adults began to construct principles that are relative & changeable. seeking a synthesis of ethical principles
  with life experiences of justice & care.    

•  Critics of Kohlberg's theory have pointed out that it overemphasizes the concept of justice when making moral 
choices. Other factors such as compassion, caring, & other interpersonal feelings may play an important part in 
moral reasoning. Gilligan feels that Kohlberg's theory has gender bias & does not consider the "morality of care"
 only the "morality of justice."
 Ψ  Defining Issues Test (DIT) - A series of questions developed by James Rest - designed to assess respondents' 
 level of moral development by having them rank possible solutions to moral dilemmas. Scores rise with age & education. 
 The Development of Faith - Fowler (1981, 1986)
 Ψ   Fowler’s stages follow along the lines of the stage theorists Jean Piaget , Erik Erikson & Lawrence Kohlberg. 
 To understand Fowler more fully is to understand these other stage theories as well--particularly Jean Piaget’s theory of 
 Cognitive Development.
 •  Stage 1: Intuitive-Projective - ages 3 to 7-  Intuitive-Projective faith is the fantasy-filled, imitative phase in which the 
 child can be powerfully & permanently influenced by examples, moods, actions & stories of the visible faith of primarily 
 related adults.
 •  Stage 2: Mythic-Literal - ages 7- 11 (some adults) -  Mythic-Literal faith is the stage in which the person begins to take 
 on for him- or herself the stories, beliefs & observances that symbolize belonging to his or her community. Beliefs are 
 a ppropriated with literal interpretations, as are moral rules & attitudes.        

•  Stage 3: Synthetic-Conventional - adolescents (many adults) -  Synthetic-Conventional is a "conformist" stage in 
the sense that it is acutely tuned to the expectations & judgments of others. 
•  Stage 4: Individual-Reflective - takes form in young adulthood - in this stage an individual articulates his or her own 
values & takes personal responsibility for their beliefs & feelings. 
•  Stage 5: Conjunctive - unusual before mid-life (may precipitate a "midlife crisis") - The conjunctive stage acknowledges 
paradox & transcendence. This stage involves the embrace & integration of opposites & polarities in one’s life. It means 
realizing in one’s late thirties, forties, or beyond that one is both young & old, & that youth & age are held together in the 
same life . . .It means coming to terms with the fact that we are both constructive people &, inadvertently destructive people. 
•  Stage 6: Universalizing: - exceedingly rare - a powerful vision of universal compassion, justice, & love. What some might 
call "enlightenment". 
- Cognitive Growth & Higher Education -   

Ψ  Years of education are strongly correlated with virtually every measure of adult cognition, even more so than age & SES.    

College education leads people to: 
   •  be more tolerant of differing views. 
    •  be more flexible and realistic in their attitudes. 
     •  exercise dialectical thought in their reasoning. 

Ψ  William Perry proposed nine steps ( or sequence of positions ) to illustrate this year-to-year 
progression of cognitive & ethical development in college. 
   •  Positions 1, 2, & 3 are summarized as; Dualism Modified. 
    •  Positions 4, 5, & 6, are summarized as; Relativism Discovered. 
     •  Positions 7, 8, & 9 are summarized as; Commitments in Relativism Developed.

Ψ  FYI    

    Perry (1981) identifies nine basic positions, of which the 3 major positions are duality, multiplicity, & commitment.
    •  The most basic position is duality. The world, knowledge & morality are assumed to have a dualistic structure. 
    Things are right or wrong, true or false, good or bad. Students see teachers as authority figures who impart right 
    answers & "the truth." The role of the student is seen as being to receive those answers & demonstrate that they 
    have learned them. Detachment is difficult in this because there is only a single, correct point of view. Most 
    students have passed beyond this stage by the time that they arrive in a university. Those that have not quickly do 
    so in the inherently pluralistic culture of modern universities.
    •  Positions two through four are largely transitional. Learners gradually develop an increased recognition of 
    multiplicity but still assimilate that multiplicity to the fundamentally dualistic framework of the first position. For 
    instance, a student may recognize the existence of a multiplicity of different points of view in the university but still 
    look for the point of view that the teacher "wants us to learn." 
    •  The next major position is multiplicity (relativism discovered). The world, knowledge & morality are accepted as 
    relativistic in the sense that truth is seen as relative to a frame of reference rather than absolute. Learners recognize 
    that things can only be said to be right or wrong within a specific context. Teachers are seen as expert guides or 
    consultants rather than as authority figures who impart "the truth." Peers are accepted as legitimate sources of 
    learning (p. xxxii). This position involves a much more extensive restructuring of the learner's existing knowledge 
    than previous positions as knowledge can no longer be assimilated to the existing dualistic organizational scheme.
    •  Positions six through eight are also largely transitional. Recognition of the relativity of knowledge leads to the 
    realization that a stable locus or point of view is necessary for a sense of identity and to give some feeling of 
    continuity. This leads to the gradual formation of commitments to certain points of view, relationships, sorts of 
    activities, etc. The learner realizes the necessity to find his own point of view in a relativistic world. He or she begins 
    by questioning & reconsidering past beliefs & commitments, then develops & expands upon firm commitments 
    regarding important areas of life and knowledge.
    •  The final major position is commitment. The commitments that the learners have developed together with their 
    recognition that all knowledge is relative, leads to the realization both that each person partly determines his or her 
    own fate & the recognition that commitments, & hence identity, are constantly evolving.     

     Ψ  Over the past two decades, college students in the US have become less concerned about developing a 
meaningful life philosophy & more concerned about finding a good job.    
     Demographic characteristics of college student bodies have changed in recent years. Now! there are more: 
•   students. 
•   women. 
•   older students. 
•   religious & ethnic diversity. 
•   low-income students. 
•   students who are parents. 
•   part-time students. 
•   nonresidential students. 
•   students who choose career based curricula. 
•   specialized student organizations. 
•   students who work part-time. 
•   students who worry about paying back college loans. 
•   students that take more than 4 years to earn a degree. 

Ψ  The impact of college on an individual's cognitive growth depends not on the college's overall philosophy, funding or 
size, but on the particular "interaction between students & teachers & among the students themselves"; however, the 
impetus for cognitive growth now depends more on the classroom than the dorm room. 

Ψ  The odds of dropping out of college increase as income falls, the size of the college increases, & as other life 
obligations enter the mix. Living off campus or working full time have been shown to increase drop out rates. 
      Key Questions

1.    What are the three approaches to the study of adult cognition?
2.    What are the main characteristics of postformal thinking?
3.    How does the emotional intensity of a problem affect the reasoning ability of individuals of different ages?
4.    What is stereotype threat, & how can cognitive flexibility help a person overcome it?
5.    Describe an example of dialectical reasoning like the one in the text about the end of a love affair. Identify the 
       thesis, antithesis, & synthesis in your example.    
6.    Is post formal thinking a stage in the Piagetian sense of the term? Why or why not?
7.    How has cultural background been found to affect cognition?
8.    How does the moral thinking of adults differ from that of children and adolescents? Why? 
9.    According to research, how does a college education affect the way people think? 
10. What are the main differences between college students today & 30 years ago? 
11. How might significant life events affect cognitive development? 
12. In your experience what changes have you noticed in your values or thought processes between the time you 
     entered college and now? 

                                                       Robert C. Gates