Developmental Psychology: Adulthood and Aging

Lea Pulkkinen. The International Handbook of Psychology. Editor: Kurt Pawlik & Mark R Rosenzweig. Sage Publications. 2000.

The Dynamics of Adult Development

In this chapter, developmental dynamics is described from three viewpoints: lifespan psychology, life-course sociology, and behavior genetics. The choice of the viewpoints for the description of the dynamics of adult development in this chapter was affected by several facts: all three viewpoints are needed for understanding human development; they represent the most modern conception of adult development; and they are more applicable to normal development and empirically more testable than clinically based psychodynamic theories. Theory and research on adult development is rather sparse compared with child development, and only recently has a wider interest in it arisen. An attempt has been made to incorporate material from a variety of cultures, but at present relatively little work on adult development is available on non-Western cultures.

Lifespan Developmental Psychology

In the history of developmental psychology, the time continuum of the life span can be found in philosophers’ writings over centuries (Reinert, 1979), but it was empirically discovered by Charlotte Bühler’ works (1933) in Germany. Her conception of developmental psychology covering the entire life span became rapidly known in the United States, and in other continents soon after World War II through psychological textbooks. The principles of lifespan psychology have, however, been more systematically formulated during the past 30 years.

Lifespan theory and research is concerned with interindividual regularities and differences, and intra-individual plasticity in development (Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, 1998). It assumes that various adaptive processes are involved in individuals’ lives from conception into old age, and identifies three major influence systems on lifespan development: (1) age-graded influences (e.g., education and marriage) which shape individual development in a relatively normative way; (2) history-graded influences (e.g., a war) which make development different across historical periods; and (3) non-normative influences (e.g., an accident) which may have powerful effects on an individual’ development. Lifespan developmental psychology incorporates both person-centered (holistic) and function-centered approaches. The function-centered approach means focusing on a category of behavior, such as cognition, personality, and emotion, and describing the lifespan changes in the processes associated with them. In this chapter, adult development is first described on the basis of function-centered research. The chapter ends with a more holistic approach which considers a person as a system and connects age periods of development into a pattern of lifetime individual development.

In lifespan psychology, development is defined ‘as selective age-related change in adaptive capacity’ (Baltes, Staudinger, & Lindenberger, 1999, p. 479). It includes not only growth-oriented notions of development, but is also open to other kinds of changes and to different means of attaining the same developmental outcome. The lifespan model of selective optimization with compensation (SOC) introduced by Margret and Paul Baltes and their colleagues in the 1990s incorporates processes involved in successful development and successful aging. It means that any process of human development involves selection of goals, optimization of means, and compensation of losses. Lifespan psychology pays attention to the developing person’ contribution to the creation of his or her own development (Brandtstädter, 1998). Individuals steer their physical, cognitive, socio-emotional and personality development by setting goals, making choices, and constructing strategies for coping with various developmental challenges (Nurmi, 1997). On the basis of the Berkeley Longitudinal Study, Clausen (1993) concluded that individuals demonstrate a ‘planful competence’ that powerfully influences the course of their lives. The planful competence involves self-confidence, intellectual commitment, and dependable effectiveness, and it affects choices and the quality of decisions people make.

The view which emphasizes freedom of individual decision and action may have a Western bias associated with an individualistic cultural base as argued by Kagitcibasi (1988). According to her, dependency and conformity expectations for the preservation of the family and the society are higher in subsistence-level societies. The history of the conception that individuals are able to select the paths they follow dates back to the 1920s, but only recently this kind of con-structionist view of individuals in shaping their own development has become popular among Western social scientists. It may overlook the constraining life circumstances for a great number of people in the world who do not have the options to choose from.

Life Course Theory

From Socialization to Life Course

A research paradigm which emphasizes the effects of environmental factors on development is known as socialization. After World War II, increasing attention was focused on the heightened influence of family as a socializing agent in childhood development. Diverse social and demographic changes were presumed to affect family socialization, and socialization as a research paradigm was strong in the 1960s. However, due to an inability to address concerns such as continuity, change, and human agency, the socialization perspective was not regarded as adequate for the description of many aspects of adult development over the life span of an individual. A shift in framework from socialization to life course took place in the 1970s.

The Principles of Life Course

Life course sociology sheds light on the contextual factors of development. The life course of individuals can be described in terms of social trajectories, such as education, work, and family. They interact with developmental trajectories; for instance, cognitive functioning is related to education and career. Human development takes place in a cultural context in a complex way (Valsiner & Lawrence, 1997). Different social structures create specific roles for individuals to fulfill. Brandtstädter (1998) argues that development is essentially a cultural product, but cultures are largely the end products of personal and collective activity. The effects of cultural context on development were powerfully addressed by Urie Bronfenbrenner in the early 1970s (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998). Issues on culture-bound tests and theories, differences in person—culture interaction, and social circumstances that affect the construction of an individual’ life course have been critically discussed within cross-cultural psychology (e.g., Nsamenang, 1992; Valsiner & Lawrence, 1997).

The first principle of the life course is that social trajectories are affected by historical time and culture (Elder, 1998). The second principle of the life course is known as human agency which means that individuals construct their own life course within the opportunities and constraints of historical time, culture, and social circumstances. It assumes that individuals have options to choose from; the assumption which has been questioned by cross-cultural psychologists. The life course theory also includes two other primary principles: timing of lives and linked lives. The former means that the developmental impact of life events (e.g., childbirth) on transitions is affected by the time when they occur in a person’ life. Some events may be considered timely or ill-timed in relation to age norms. The principle of linked lives suggests that lives (e.g., the lives of family members) are lived interdependently.

Modern societies change rapidly, and therefore, the year of one’ birth may expose the individual to different historical worlds in terms of, say, educational opportunities and economic situations. They cause cohort effects which mean that social change differentiates the life conditions of successive cohorts. For instance, the drastic income loss during the Great Depression in the USA in the 1930s affected younger children, particularly boys, more strongly than older children because younger children were more dependent on their parents and could not participate as much in working for the family’ well-being.

Conceptual Distinctions

Life span specifies the temporal order of two or more life stages. The periods of life span include prenatal stage (conception to birth), infancy and toddlerhood (birth to age 3), early childhood (3 to 6 years), middle childhood (6 to 12 years), adolescence (12 to about 20 years), young adulthood (20 to 40 years), middle age (40 to 65 years), and late adulthood or old age (65 years and over). Instead, the concept of life course refers to the interdependence of age-graded trajectories, such as work and family. These concepts differ from the concept of life history which commonly refers to an individual’ life events in chronological order. Life organization, on the other hand, means the coherence of the life history which the individual has constructed. Furthermore, life structure refers to an individual’ subjective account of his or her life pattern at a given age, life stage to a socially defined position such as adolescence or advanced age, and life cycle to a reproductive process in a human populations such as the family cycle.

Genetic Factors in Development

Contextual factors affect development in interaction with genetic factors. Information about the role of genetic factors in development has been gained, especially in studies involving twins and adopted children (Plomin & Petrill, 1997). Genetic influence can be described in terms of heritability, a statistic that describes the proportion of observed differences between individuals that can be attributed to genetics. Recent studies have shown notable genetic influences on individual differences in personality and cognitive development, and their continuity over time. About half of the interindividual variance in personality measures is explained by genetic factors. Genetics also plays an important role in many close relationships; for instance, people choose partners who are similar to themselves (called assortative mating). For cognitive development, research has shown (Pike & Plomin, 1997) that: (1) genetic factors primarily contribute to the stability of intelligence during development; (2) specific cognitive abilities such as verbal and spatial ability are largely attributable to the same genes; (3) behavioral traits are influenced by many genes; and (4) performance in scholastic achievement and intelligence tests is affected by the same genetic factors. Effort is needed for scholastic achievement, but effort alone does not explain individual differences in achievement independent of ability.

Developmental genetic studies have revealed that heritability increases with age. Regarding the intelligence quotient (IQ), for example, heritability is about 40% in childhood, 60% in early adulthood, and 80% in later life. These findings may sound surprising because it seems that environmental factors should become more important as life experiences accumulate. The increasing genetic component is understandable on the basis of person—environment transaction. Within the constraints of social circumstances, individuals select environments which in favorable conditions facilitate matching their genetic dispositions and accentuating their genetic propensities; it is called proactive person—environment transaction. Another type of person—environment transaction is called reactive which means that individuals experience and interpret the same environment in different ways and react to it differently. A third type of person—environment transaction is called evocative and it refers to the fact that people react to an individual’ characteristics, such as temperament or personality traits, intelligence, motivation, and physical functioning capacity.

Although genetic factors help to explain individual differences in personality and cognitive functioning, a large part of the variance is not genetic in origin. Such nongenetic environmental influences include prenatal and postnatal nutrition, illness, and parenting. The investigation of nongenetic effects is difficult because of their complexity. For instance, a shared family environment explains a large part of the variance of intelligence scores in childhood but has a negligible effect in adulthood. As previously stated, an explanation for this phenomenon is that individuals select different aspects from their environments to interact with. This is called a nonshared environment because the environmental effects are not shared by individuals living in the same environment equally. The effect of nonshared environment on individuals in relation to the effect of shared environment increases with age.

Cognitive Development

Developmental Trends in Sensory and Psychomotor Functioning

The senses are sharpest and physical functioning, in general, is at its peak in young adulthood, from the early twenties to early thirties. A decline becomes evident in middle age (Papalia, Olds, & Feldman, 1998). Gradual hearing loss begins, however, already in adolescence. Hearing loss proceeds more quickly in men than in women. One-third of people between 65 and 74 have suffered enough hearing loss to cause them difficulties in hearing what people say, and this proportion increases with age.

As for vision, the decline is related to the fact that the lens of the eye becomes progressively less flexible. Age-related visual problems occur in near vision, dynamic vision, sensitivity to light, visual search, and speed of processing visual information. In old age, difficulties may appear in perceiving depth or color and in sensitivity to visual contrast. The other senses—taste, smell, and sensitivity to pain and temperature—also generally begin to decline after age 45, but do so more slowly in women than in men. In old age, sensitivity to taste declines, which may worsen appetite or cause overcompensation by the adoption of a highly seasoned or oversalted diet.

Strength and coordination of the lower body decline gradually, whereas upper body strength is retained longer. Endurance remains more undiminished than strength. Overall, people generally lose about one-fifth of their adult strength by age 70, and about half of it by their eighties. The decline is related to the loss of muscle mass which is increasingly replaced by fat. Muscle strength can, however, be retained by weight lifting and other exercise. Reaction time slows by one-fifth between age 20 and 60.

The consequences of declines in reaction time, vision, coordination, and motor skills on performances such as skilled industrial work, typing, or driving are, however, compensated for by knowledge and judgment based on experience, and by personality characteristics such as conscientiousness and prudence. Therefore, in many occupations middle-aged people are better workers than younger adults. This notion contrasts with the increasing age discrimination being met on labor markets in many countries which may engender anxiety about the future among those facing middle age.

Developmental Trends in Cognitive Abilities

Early studies on intelligence and cognitive development that began with children showed a linear growth of cognitive capacity with age until late adolescence but a gradual decline in adulthood. Negative conclusions of cognitive development in adulthood were revised when new methodological approaches and theoretical conceptualizations emerged. It was found that a cross-sectional design, used in earlier studies, provided information about the differences between different age groups rather than about changes in the individual. Such cross-sectional comparisons may produce cohort effects because younger and older adults have typically lived in different environments in terms of, for instance, the quality and length of education.

Another approach to the study of cognitive development has been a longitudinal design, in which the same people are studied more than once. Longitudinal studies with repeated tests over time have shown an increase in intelligence at least until middle age. In any longitudinal study, attrition, that is, the loss of some of the participants, affects the generalizability of the results. It is possible that poorer scorers drop out more often than higher scorers, and that experience with testing situations favors people.

The drawbacks of both cross-sectional and longitudinal research have prompted researchers to make use of a sequential design. It combines the cross-sectional and longitudinal designs: several cross-sectional samples of different ages are assessed over a certain period of time. Schaie and his colleagues applied this approach in the Seattle Longitudinal Study of Adult Intelligence (Schaie, 1994) that began in 1956. Their random sample included 500 participants: 25 men and 25 women at five-year age intervals from age 20 to 70. The original participants were tested every seven years, and new participants were added. The total sample tested by 1994 included 5,000 participants.

Variability in Developmental Patterns

The test battery included in the Seattle Longitudinal Study consisted of five timed tests: verbal meaning, number, word fluency, spatial orientation, and inductive reasoning. A standard measure in the study of adult intelligence is the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS). It comprises of 11 subtests for verbal (information, comprehension, arithmetic, and similarities) and nonverbal (mastering a maze, identifying the missing part of a picture) performance. On the basis of the scores obtained in subtests, a verbal IQ, a non-verbal IQ, and a total IQ can be calculated. In the Seattle Longitudinal Study, developmental trends were investigated for intellectual abilities separately.

No uniform pattern of age-related changes in intellectual abilities was found (Schaie, 1994). Most individuals maintained their cognitive abilities until age 60, and many individuals improved their performance in some tests. Even then a reduction did not emerge in all or even most areas. Cognitive abilities generally increased until about age 40, remained stable until about age 60, and then incurred minor losses by age 70. There was, however, enormous variability among individuals and abilities in developmental patterns. Some individuals showed declines in young adulthood, and some did better at age 70 than the average young adult. Some abilities tended to decline early; others tended to remain stable or even increase until age 70. People with higher scores were healthier, wealthier, better-educated, and had more stable marriages, intelligent spouses, and stimulating lives. These factors are related. The findings show that cognitive development is intertwined with psychosocial development.

Fluid and Crystallized Intelligence

To understand why different abilities show different developmental patterns, Horn and Cattell proposed a distinction between fluid and crystallized intelligence in the 1960s. Fluid intelligence involves perception and reasoning, in the other words, the ability to solve problems that require speed in perceptions and information processing but little previous knowledge, while crystallized intelligence is manifested in vocabulary and general information and involves the ability to remember and use information. Crystallized intelligence is more dependent on education and cultural background than fluid intelligence.

Fluid intelligence peaks during young adulthood, but crystallized abilities do not show steeper decrement until the late 70s (Birren & Schaie, 1990). It has been suggested that fluid intelligence is determined by neurological status, whereas crystallized intelligence is largely affected by cultural experience. A meta-analysis of 91 studies (Verhaeghen & Salthouse, 1997), which included a comparison between subsamples under and over 50 years of age, showed that there is already a negative correlation between age and performance in fluid intelligence among 18- to 50-year-olds. This means that age-related decline does not only emerge after the age of 50. The decline accelerates over the adult lifespan, most notably in speed, reasoning, and episodic memory.

Closely related to the Cattell—Horn theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence is a two-component model which identifies two categories of intellectual functioning: the mechanics and pragmatics of cognition (Baltes et al., 1999). The mechanics of cognition are genetically predisposed, whereas the pragmatics of cognition are associated with acquired knowledge. For instance, perceptual speed and reasoning are abilities that involve mechanics and parallel fluid intelligence. They show monotonic decline during adulthood. Verbal knowledge and fluency are more pragmatic abilities and parallel crystallized intelligence. They start to decline only in very old age. The Berlin Aging Study conducted with participants aged 75 to 105 years showed that the degree of distinctiveness between different aspects of mechanics and pragmatics of intelligence decreased significantly in old age (Linden-berger & Baltes, 1997). This means that abilities become more interrelated, and the age trajectories between the abilities become smaller as age increases. All abilities tend to decrease in very old age due to general brain-related deterioration.

Qualitative Changes in Cognitive Capacities

Relativistic Thinking and Wisdom

A qualitative difference in the cognitive competence of younger and older people has been suggested by Labouviev-Vief (1985). Piaget’ theory assumes a development toward abstract, hypothetical reasoning which is free from subjectivity and cultural contamination. The ability to think abstractly and use scientific reasoning develops in adolescence. Consequently, ‘mature’ reasoning should involve a denial of subjectivity. However, older adults who typically do not perform as well as younger ones in formal reasoning tend to be subjective, to personalize the tasks set, to consider the affective dimensions involved, to consider alternative interpretations, and to suggest multiple answers.

In relativistic thinking or postformal thought, they also tend to utilize life experiences. Labouviev-Vief (1985) argues that subjective, intuitive reasoning exists parallel to objective, rational reasoning. They balance and enrich each other, suggesting that wisdom is a synthesis of reason and emotion. Wisdom has also been defined as expert knowledge of the fundamental pragmatics of life, i.e., as part of the pragmatics of intelligence (Baltes et al., 1999). It may grow in later adulthood, especially if individuals have had certain kinds of experience and professional background. Wisdom is a cognitive and motivational metastrategy which protects against the fragmentation of knowledge and enhances the optimization of one’ virtues. It consists of the knowledge and skills involved in the interpretation and meaning of life.

Age and Creativity

Creativity has been operationalized by tests of divergent thinking which show a capacity to come up with a number of novel and yet acceptable solutions to problems. In contrast, convergent thinking, the capacity to arrive at a single correct answer to a problem, characterizes an intelligent person (Gardner, 1998). Creative individuals are above average in intelligence, but extremely high intelligence does not predict high creativity.

Divergent thinking as well as the number of publications, paintings, and compositions peak, on average, around age 40. Creativity varies, however, depending on the field. Poets, mathematicians, and theoretical physicists are most productive around age 30, whereas novelists, philosophers, social scientists, and historians increase their productivity through their fifties. A masterpiece may appear at any age. It is characteristic of creative individuals to start early and be very productive, even into old age.

Highly creative individuals differ from their peers more in personality characteristics such as willingness to take risks, motivation, and persistence than in cognitive abilities, although they generally exhibit at least two distinct cognitive strengths and stick to a selected domain (Gardner, 1998). Their family background is often comfortable and exhibits a high work ethic. Personal losses and stress in childhood are also common. Creative adults differ in many respects from prodigies who have mastered a domain at an early age, yet in both cases, a factor that differentiates the highest achievers from others is the large amount of time invested in work and practice.

Age and Learning

The concept of intelligence has historically been associated with the ability to learn, but common measures of intelligence do not normally test learning ability. In his triarchic theory of intelligence, Sternberg (1997) suggests a broad conception of the learning and thinking abilities underlying human intelligence. ‘Intelligence comprises the mental abilities necessary for adaptation to, as well as shaping and selection of, any environmental context.’ (p. 1030). Intelligent people can respond flexibly to challenging situations. Sternberg divides intelligence into three components: the analytical, the creative, and the practical, which collectively affect learning.

Research results suggesting a decrease in fluid intelligence with age raise questions as to whether intelligence is related to learning, whether it is possible to compensate for losses by practicing skills, and whether learning is possible in old age. The tasks of learning are traditionally associated with childhood and youth, but formal training for many individuals now extends long into young adulthood. With shifting career patterns, many adults continue to learn until retirement and beyond. In some Western countries, about half of all adults participate in continuing education. With age-adjusted instruction, older people can learn new information and skills, such as how to use computers, although often more slowly than younger ones. In this context, older people show a plasticity and modifiability in cognitive performance, and they can benefit from training.

Personality Development

Behavioral Attributes and Dispositions


Definitions of temperament usually refer to the biological bases of behavior, although the term temperament has also been used to refer to style of behavior or primary reaction patterns without reference to the underlying biological processes. Rothbart and Bates (1998) define temperament as ‘constitutionally based individual differences in emotional, motor, and attentional reactivity and self-regulation’ (p. 109). Genetic inheritance, maturation, and experience influence temperament. Reactivity, which is modulated by self-regulatory processes, can be measured in terms of the onset, duration, and intensity of affective reactions such as fear and anger. Rothbart and Bates emphasize that temperament processes are open systems. This means that experiences influence the development of temperament. It may also mean that what are normally understood as personality traits are largely aspects of temperament differentiated in the course of life experience.

There are several theories concerning the structure of interindividual differences in temperament. The broad behavioral tendencies, quite generally accepted among researchers, are: (1) extraversion, approach, or positive affect; (2) inhibition, anxiety, or harm-avoidance; (3) irritability or anger; and (4) affiliativeness or social reward dependence (Rothbart & Bates, 1998). These tendency categories are reminiscent of the four-fold temperaments: sanguine, melancholic, choleric, and phlegmatic, respectively, identified by ancient Greco-Roman physicians. Longitudinal studies show that there is significant continuity between childhood temperamental characteristics and adult outcomes, for instance, between a child’ irritability and subsequent undercontrolled behavior such as criminality. An individual’ temperament may become an organizing force in his or her development.

Trait Models

Trait models are taxonomies of personality traits developed to facilitate the communication of interindividual differences in behavioral characteristics. They are structures of personality description, not structures of personality. The number of traits that researchers have used in the description of personality has varied substantially. Over the past decades, a reasonable consensus has been reached on five factors: Extraversion (e.g., active, assertive, enthusiastic, outgoing), Agreeableness (generous, kind, sympathetic, trusting), Conscientiousness (organized, planful, reliable, responsible), Neuroticism (anxious, self-pitying, tense, worrying), and Openness to Experience (artistic, curious, imaginative, of wide interests). Each covers a broad domain of individual differences (Caspi, 1998) and includes a number of more specific personality dimensions. The five factors have emerged at different ages, in different cultures, and with different methods. They have been interpreted as representing important dimensions of people’ social survival needs, providing information about individuals’ adaptational potential, and depicting the dimensions used in the judging of other people. Criticism of this consensus has also been presented (Block, 1995): the descriptive system is atheoretical, the interpretation and naming of factors is subjective, and the extracted dimensions are dependent on the variables included in the analyses. Jack Block suggests that the construct ‘Five Factor Approach to personality description’ be used instead of the ‘Five Factor Model of personality’.

The number of factors that adequately describes personality is still debated. Shortly before his death, Eysenck (1997) argued that Agreeableness and Conscientiousness are primary rather than higher-order factors. A meta-analysis of 14 studies on children, adolescents, and adults confirmed this argument (Digman, 1997). Two higher-order factors emerged. One, called alpha, was principally formed by the dimensions Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Emotional Stability on one pole and by Hostility, Heedlessness, and Neuroticism on the other. The second higher-order factor, called beta, covered the dimensions Extraversion and Openness to Experience. These constructs form links between the Five Factor Model and Eysenck’ original temperament theory of Extraversion and Neuroticism.

Digman (1997) gave different interpretations to these factors: Factor alpha describes socialization, whereas Factor beta represents personal growth. In parallel to this notion, the largest environmental influences and the lowest herit-abilities were found in the Factor alpha dimensions, whereas the smallest environmental influences and the highest heritabilities were found in the Factor beta dimensions (Vernon, Jang, Harries, & McCarthy, 1997). The Factor beta dimensions correlate with intellectual abilities as revealed by a meta-analysis of several studies (Ackerman & Heggestad, 1997).

A two-dimensional framework with four-fold prototypical behaviors has guided the longitudinal studies of personality development by Block (1993) in the United States and Pulkkinen (1996b) in Finland. The four prototypes are reminiscent of the temperament categories, and their dimensions are similar to the factors alpha and beta. The prototypes include undercontrolled behavior, such as aggression; overcontrolled behavior, such as compliance; ego-resilient behavior, such as constructiveness; and ego-brittleness, such as anxiety. These prototypes show continuity over time and they are associated with typical adult outcomes, for instance, aggressive or undercontrolled behavior in childhood predicts criminality in adulthood.

The Person-Oriented Approach

The person-oriented approach is an alternative or complementary approach to the variable-oriented study of personality (Block, 1971). It aims at a more holistic view of personality which ‘emphasizes the close dependency of individual functioning and individual development on the social, cultural, and physical characteristics of the environment’ (Magnusson & Stattin, 1998, p. 686). The person-oriented approach means that individuals are not described and compared in terms of isolated variables (as in the variable-oriented study) but in a configuration of several variables. There are many methodological tools for the study of the patterning of structures such as the Q-sort technique, pattern analysis, cluster analysis, latent profile analysis, configural frequency analysis, latent transition analysis, log-linear modeling, and the multivariate P-technique (Magnusson & Stattin, 1998).

One of the person-oriented approaches to personality is to identify individual differences in terms of personality types. The concept of type does not refer here to discrete categories because individuals differ in their degree of ‘fit’ in the category prototype (York & John, 1992). In the Finnish Longitudinal Study of Personality and Social Development in which the development of about 80% of a random sample of females and males has been studied from childhood to early middle age, personality styles (or types) in adulthood were studied considering personality traits, life orientation, and behavioral activities (Pulkkinen, 1996b). Personality types obtained replicated the types that Block (1971) identified with the participants of the Berkeley Longitudinal Study. The use of the hierarchical clustering technique made it possible in the Finnish study to group the types into more general categories, i.e., to three replicable personality types that have emerged in several studies (Caspi, 1998). One-fourth of women and men were characterized by the personality type called Conflicted. It included negative emotionality and interpersonal conflicts. Two personality types described adjustment. The division between adjusted and conflicted personality types was rooted in the quality of emotional and behavioral regulation in childhood, and individuals tended to remain in the same category from early adulthood to mid-adulthood.

Stability and Change in Personality Characteristics

Although it is difficult to prove that there are no absolute changes in personality characteristics during adult years, longitudinal studies suggest that Neuroticism tends to decline and Conscientiousness/Dependability, Self-confidence, Outgoingness, and Cognitive Commitment tend to increase (Caspi, 1998). Individual changes may, however, differ from this general pattern. For instance, Jones and Meredith (1996) found that, in spite of the general increase in Cognitive Commitment from age 18 to 30 (expressed by the means of the group), Cognitive Commitment decreased significantly in 31% of the participants during this period. Thus group statistics may be rather meaningless for the prediction of continuity in an individual’ personality characteristics. In general, there is very little evidence for age-related losses in self and personality functions until the late seventies, but more discontinuity in the functional status of personality can be seen in individuals above age 85 (Baltes et al., 1998).

Longitudinal studies show notable stability of interindividual differences in personality traits over time. Especially in adulthood, such stability exists in all five factors of personality (Costa & McCrae, 1994). In general, stability is higher at mature ages than in childhood, which suggests that a psychological organization of personality forms with age (Caspi, 1998). In addition to stability of phenotypically similar characteristics over time, indicated by, for instance, a significant correlation of aggression scores measured at different ages, continuity has also been found between phenotypically different attributes such as aggression and criminality measured at different points of time. The latter is called heterotypic continuity. A correlation can be interpreted as an indicator of heterotypic continuity if the obtained coherence can be inferred from a genotypic attribute underlying both behaviors. Continuity is, however, often interpreted as heterotypic without a sound theoretical basis. Temperament or the four-fold prototypical behaviors introduced by Block and Pulkkinen are examples of constructs that have been used in the interpretation of heterotypic continuity.


Multiple Selves

Personality characteristics are observable by other people. An individual’ own conception of his or her personality and its continuity is integrated by self. A view of self, including both positive and negative attributes, is formed through social comparisons. Comparison with peers for self-evaluation, or rather, for personal competence assessment, becomes salient in middle childhood (Harter, 1998). This process is supported by socializing agents such as parents, teachers, and peers. During early adolescence when abstract thinking develops, an adolescent becomes capable of constructing an abstraction of the self, for instance, as intelligent. Seeing himself or herself as intelligent is based on the combination of such attributes as successful at school and innovative. Such abstractions are typically isolated self-attributes without a coherent organization.

Linking one abstraction to another becomes possible in middle adolescence, but attempts to resolve the contradictions inherent in the opposite poles of the continuum, being both cheerful and depressed, for example, reveals the lack of maturity. ‘An awareness of the opposites within one’ self-portrait causes considerable intrapsychic conflict, confusion, and distress’ (Harter, 1998, p. 573). In late adolescence, higher-order abstractions that represent the coordination of single abstractions make it possible to develop a more integrated theory of self. Opposing attributes do not produce a conflict; they can be accepted under terms such as flexibility, inconsistency, or moodiness. These higher-order abstractions help relieve the troublesome contradictions within the self.

In addition to actual attributes included in the real self, adolescents have conceptions of what they would like to be, i.e., of an ideal self. Its development is related to an early representation of what others want them to be. Some discrepancy is motivating, but a high discrepancy may be indicative of maladjustment such as depression. A third type of self-image, the ought self, refers to the attributes that one believes he or she should possess. A high discrepancy between the real self and the ought self may produce negative emotions. The identification of self-images has also been made in the time dimension. The real self represents immediate and actual self, whereas the possible selves represent both the hoped for and dreaded selves. They can be approached or avoided; they have a motivational function.

According to the old self-theory of William James, individuals who have a positive self-concept in areas where they desire high achievement, have high self-esteem. A high discrepancy between the real and ideal selves may result in low self-esteem. Empirical research on different age groups has confirmed that competence in areas that individuals consider important correlate more highly with overall self-esteem than competence in domains deemed unimportant. Self-esteem may even increase in old age (65 years or over) due to self-efficacy which is higher in older than younger age (Dietz, 1996). Self-efficacy means an evaluation based on a sense of competence.

Studies on the stability of self-representation show that there is a decline in positive self-judgment in preadolescence, after which self-evaluation gradually becomes more positive. The increase in personal autonomy during adolescence provides opportunities to select activities in which one is competent. Self-concept is relatively stable in adulthood, although short-term changes in self-concept may occur. This stability is related to the selection of information and experiences; people avoid information that threatens their view of self. They construct a sense of continuity over time for the I-self (I as an agent) and for the Me-selves (characteristics recognized by others). A great majority of people over the age of 85 think that they are essentially the same people they have always been, although most people perceive that some of their characteristics have changed (Troll & Skaff, 1997).

Unfavorable self-evaluations may be associated with depression or other negative outcomes, and preoccupation with self may interfere with work and interpersonal relations. Overestimation in self-judgment, on the other hand, may produce an egoistic self-image which also has a negative influence on interpersonal relationships. Developmental processes of self-image with regard to underlying mechanisms and transition rules have not yet a coherent empirical foundation (Harter, 1998).

Growth Models

The growth of self is inherent in Western humanistic and psychodynamic theories. Oriental philosophies may have different views of human growth. Humanistic theories stress the potential for positive development. People can take charge of their lives and direct it toward creativity and self-realization. Maslow (1954) identified a hierarchy of needs from the level of basic physiological needs to safety needs, be-longingness and love needs, esteem needs, and finally self-actualization needs. Self-actualization involves self-fulfillment and the realization of one’ potential. Its attainment is rare; self-actualized people have special characteristics such as creativity and a strong sense of values. The theory states that needs on the more basic level have to be largely satisfied before people can satisfy needs on a higher level. This principle has been seriously questioned. In non-Western cultures, the hierarchy of needs may be different. For instance, social belongingness needs may be at the top of the hierarchy, not self-actualization.

An influential lifespan theory about personality development by Erik H. Erikson (1950) exemplifies the growth of self through age stages. His theoretical framework was psychoanalytical, and therefore he analyzed self development in terms of ego. Ego is an aspect of personality that operates on the reality principle and seeks acceptable means of gratification. The theory covers eight stages across the life span. Erikson argues that a psychosocial crisis in early adolescence concerns group identity versus alienation, and in late adolescence individual identity versus role diffusion. Marcia (1980) has proposed a model for the resolution of the identity crisis. He distinguished four identity statuses on the basis of exploration of and commitment to a certain mode of action or way of thinking. An individual’ identity status may be different in different domains, such as religion, politics, and vocational career. Although identity diffusion (no exploration, no commitment) declines with age, many people remain diffused in some domains into adulthood. In general, exploration seems to be a process typical of young people, whereas commitment is typical of adults.

Socio-Emotional Development

Both conceptually and theoretically, the study of socio-emotional development is close to that of personality development. Therefore, they are often regarded together. In this section, social development is discussed in terms of socio-emotional relationships, emotions, and dimensions of interpersonal behavior.

Social Relationships

Adult Attachment

Attachment refers to an affectionate and reciprocal relationship between two people. The advantages of the child’ secure attachment to his or her parents continue into adolescence and adulthood. Bowlby claimed in the 1970s that the attachment relationship a child forms with the primary caregiver results in a prototypical internal working model of close relationships which affects the formation of close relationships even in adulthood. Four prototypes of adult attachment were distinguished by Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991): secure (positive self image—positive image of others), dismissing (positive self—negative others), preoccupied (negative self—positive others), and fearful attachment (negative self—negative others). There is some evidence suggesting that adults with different attachment styles differ in their interpersonal relationships, overall adjustment, and personality characteristics, and that these differences extend into later adulthood and old age (Diehl, Elnick, Bourbeau, & Labouviev-Vief, 1998). For instance, secure individuals are less neurotic, more extraverted, and more agreeable than the rest.

Securely attached adults generally have securely attached children; they respond to their infants most sensitively, which is a basis of secure attachment. Serious aggression and other behavior problems in children are related to insecure attachment in mothers and in their children. These observations have led van IJzen-doorn (1997) to present a developmental socio-emotional model of antisocial behavior, in which attachment is related to the type and level of moral reasoning and which could, in part, explain the risk of violence in the insecurely attached.


‘A friendship consists mainly of being attracted to someone who is attracted in return, with parity governing the social exchanges between the individuals involved’ (Hartup & Stevens, 1997, p. 355). The developmental significance of friendship in children and adolescents has been studied with many methods, but less is known about it beyond adolescence. A differentiation between deep structure and surface structure of friendship helps shed light on the role of friendship across the life course.

As summarized by Hartup and Stevens (1997), mostly Western research shows that the deep structure of friendship, which refers to the social meaning of relationships, is developmentally stable. Trustworthiness and understanding are attributes given to a friend both at school age and in older age. The deep structure of friendship can be described as symmetrical reciprocity. In contrast, the surface structure of friendship, which refers to the actual exchanges between friends, is not developmentally stable. Surface structures vary from adolescence to old age. Adolescents share interests and spend time in common activities. The reciprocities include intimacy that supports a sense of self-identity. Among young adults, these reciprocities are centered on work activities and family lives with children of about same age. Friendships can be said to help accomplish developmental tasks. In middle age, people invest less time and energy in friendships than in young adulthood but exchange emotional support and practical experience with friends. Social relationships have adaptive functions also in very old age as proposed by Carstensen in her socio-emotional selectivity theory; people tend to, for instance, select their social contacts to maximize emotionally meaningful experiences and avoid certain contacts in order to protect themselves from unpleasant social contacts or loss of autonomy (Lang & M. M. Baltes, 1997).

Different cultures differ in emotional closeness and openness of the relationships, as well as in values beyond them (Elbedour, Schulman, & Kedem, 1997). The role of cultural context on social relations has been described in terms of individualism—collectivism (Berry, Poortinga, Segall, & Dasen, 1992). In North American culture, which values individualism and emancipation from the family, peer groups are found more important among adolescents than in a more ‘familistic’ Italian culture (Claes, 1998). At an old age, correspondingly, family-related activities are preferred by Spanish people for personal free-time activity; preferences are reversed among Dutch people (Katzko, Steverink, Dittman-Kohli, & Herrera, 1998). In a culture favoring collective values, i.e., emphasizing communal feelings, social usefulness, acceptance of authority, and family values such as mutual support and commitment to the family, family values are given a higher priority than individual values. Satisfaction with friends is a weaker correlate of life satisfaction in collectivistic societies (Diener & Diener, 1995). Main changes in family occurring in the world with increased affluence are towards weakening material interdependence while emotional inter-dependencies may or may not remain functional (Kagitcibasi, 1996). Social security benefits replace support systems within families. For instance, sustaining elderly parents decreases in importance. It may have consequences for emotional ties.

The size of friendship network and its importance to individuals is rather stable across Western countries (Claes, 1998; Elbedour et al., 1997; Hartup & Stevens, 1997). Network size is highest in young adulthood, declines by middle age, rises at retirement, and declines again among older adults. Although the rate of social interaction decreases during old age, contacts with family members increase in emotional closeness (Hartup & Stevens, 1997). Relationships with siblings also tend to reflect age differences in social relationships, but as complementary to friendship network. Sibling relationships tend to become more distant during young adulthood when the significance of friends, spouses, and family life increases. Life events such as childbirth often tighten sibling bonds. During middle age, bonds between siblings become closer, and relationships are restored—often activated by dealing with the care of aging parents. In old age, the long-lasting nature of relationships with siblings becomes even more important, especially between sisters.

Close friends tend to remain the same over time (Cairns & Cairns, 1994). Long-term friendships that are based on shared histories are consciously maintained and preferred to the making of new friends. Individuals who have friends compared with those who do not are typically more socially competent and better adjusted, and their psychological well-being is better throughout adulthood and old age (Hartup & Stevens, 1997). In old age, friends are especially important for psychological well-being if there are no living relatives. Friendships predict job success and feelings of self-worth, and friendships can generally help individuals cope with developmental challenges in normative and non-normative developmental transitions such as entrance into family life or divorce. The developmental significance of friends is not, however, unrelated to the characteristics of friends. People have a tendency to select friends who resemble themselves although sociodemo-graphic conditions and opportunities for socialization also affect their selection. For example, antisocial friends socialize adolescents to antisocial values and acts.


A relationship that contains intimacy, the emotional element which involves self-disclosure and trust, passion, the motivational element which includes physiological arousal into sexual desire, and commitment, the cognitive element which is the decision to love the other, is experienced as love. These elements may occur in different strengths. Sternberg (1995) argues that people ‘create’ love as a story which explains the fact that couples share many kinds of love within a culture and between cultures. The similarity-attraction dynamic typical of friendships also applies to love. Lovers often resemble each other somewhat in personality traits and moderately or substantially in social attitudes and religion.


Views on Emotions

Emotions consist of physiological, behavioral, and subjective-experiential components. There are theorists who argue that a small set of basic emotions, including anger, surprise, joy, interest, fear, sadness, and disgust, which become differentiated during the first year of life, are universal and fundamental for human motivation (Dougherty, Abe, & Izard, 1996). All theorists do not believe in the principle of basic emotions. Cross-cultural comparisons have revealed cultural effects on emotions and led to the formulation of constructionist theories of emotion which do not emphasize their biological basis. Different emotions may exist in different cultures, and factors that elicit them may differ (Mesquita & Frijda, 1992).

Individual differences in emotions can be regarded both as dispositional differences related to temperament and socio-emotional functioning, and as situationally specific reactions. Emotionality is related to the level of adjustment and conception of the self, and it contributes to the quality of social relationships. Achievement-related motivation and morality are also affected by emotions. Emotion is an integral part of socialization. Mechanisms involved in the regulation of one’ emotions and their relation to social competence and adjustment have recently gained increasing attention among researchers. Emotion regulation can be viewed as ‘the process of initiating, sustaining, modulating, or changing the occurrence, intensity, or duration of internal feeling states and emotion-related physiological processes’ (Eisenberg, 1998, p. 6).

Emotions in Adolescence and Adulthood

The prevalence of depressive symptoms increases in both sexes, especially in girls, at some point in early-to-middle adolescence. At the same time, there is an increase in the output of sex hormones. The adrenal cortex produces male sex hormones, called androgens, in boys and girls, but more in boys. The excretion of estrogen also increases, especially in girls. The increase in hormone output is related to negative affect. Nevertheless hormones account for negative affect less than social factors (Susman, Dorn, & Chrousos, 1991). For males, there is an association between pubertal hormones and aggressive behavior, but for females the results are less consistent. Many factors appear to modify adolescents’ moods and affects.

Emotional experience is intertwined with the cognitive appraisal of situations, and there are age differences in the types of cognitive appraisals people make. The frequencies and intensities of emotional experience, especially for negative emotions, also decrease with age (Gross et al., 1997). These changes seem to be related to increased emotional control with age. Laboratory studies have confirmed some self-reported tendencies: older couples express less negativity and more affection than middle-aged couples while discussing a conflict in a laboratory situation (Carstensen, Grottman, & Levenson, 1995). Depression among older people is, however, common: more than half of the participants of the Finnish Evergreen project were classified as depressed over a five-year period among 75- and 80-year-old people. The mean score of those who died during the five-year follow-up did not differ significantly from the mean of the survivors (Heikkinen, Heikkinen, & Ruoppila, 1997).

Dimensions of Social Development

Moral Development

The quality of social interaction between people is related to the prevailing norms of society and moral reasoning in individuals. A dominant conception of moral reasoning following cognitive development, was presented by Kohlberg in the 1960s. It was comprised of three levels—pre-conventionality, conventional role conformity, and moral principles. The last level recognizing individual rights, contracts, laws, and ethics, is reached in adolescence, young adulthood, or never. Before his death, Kohlberg proposed an additional stage of moral development (Kohlberg & Ryncarz, 1990). It involves achieving a cosmic perspective, a sense of unity with the cosmos, nature, or God. It enables a person to think of moral issues from the standpoint of the universe as a whole and parallels the mature stage of faith as described by Fowler (1981). This stage is rare. It is reached by individuals whose commitment to humanity greatly inspires others.

Prosocial Behavior

Voluntary behavior intended to benefit others, called prosocial behavior, is motivated by empathy-related emotions (comprehension of another’ emotional state) and sympathy-related emotions (feelings of concern for the distressed). Higher moral reasoning leads to altruism and moral behavior in individuals for whom moral values are central to self-understanding (Damon & Hart, 1988). Altruistic parents encourage prosociality in their children. The development of prosocial behavior has been linked to perspective-taking abilities, intelligence, the level of expressed motives for prosocial behavior, and moral reasoning (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998). Consistency in prosocial and empathic tendencies across situations and time is already evident in adolescence.

Prosocial behavior and mature moral reasoning correlate with popularity, social competence, and self-esteem. Girls tend to be more prosocial than boys, but differences vary with the type of prosocial behavior. Prosocial values, personal norms, and one’ conception of personal responsibility for assisting others motivate altruism in adulthood, but they can also be seen in adolescents who are highly committed to caring for others.

Aggression and Antisocial Behavior

Aggression is a behavior aimed at harming or injuring another person. It has adaptive and maladaptive functions; it has evolved to be part of a communication system. Studies on aggression have revealed many variables correlating with its frequency, for example, a difficult temperament, neuropsychological deficits, and psychophysiological indicators such as low resting heart rate.

Antisocial behavior is a broad construct encompassing delinquency and crime, and disruptive behavior, such as aggression, below the age of criminal responsibility (Rutter, Giller, & Hagell, 1998). It inflicts physical or mental harm or property loss or damage on others, which may or may not constitute the breaking of criminal laws (Coie & Dodge, 1998, p. 781). Antisocial behavior peaks during adolescence and declines rapidly between the ages of 18 and 25. Strengthening regulatory processes in adulthood may explain, at least in some individuals, the decrease of antisocial behavior and reorientation towards more successful development. Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber (1998) identify three developmental types of violent individuals: (a) a life-course type, (b) a limited-duration type, and (c) a late-onset type. The life-course career criminals may continue their high rates of crime until about age 40. They begin their antisocial behavior in early life, many of them prior to age 11. The limited-duration type means that individuals outgrow aggression in late adolescence or early adulthood. The late-onset type consists of a minority of adult violent offenders who have not been aggressive or violent early in life.

Antisocial behavior is influenced by social context, by genetic factors, and by age-related determinants. It is related to unemployment and negative identity. People who can establish stable work and family lives, regardless of ethnicity, tend to end their violent criminal behavior. Life events which sever relationships with antisocial peer groups or which impose new values may be turning points that cause changes in the antisocial trajectory and advance adaptation to society.

The criminal records of violence do not include child abuse and spousal battery. There is data to suggest that about 16% of American couples are physically violent towards each other, and the rate of child abuse is about the same. Most victims of domestic violence are women, and many are killed by intimate partners. Although women at greatest risk are young, poor, and uneducated, partner abuse occurs at every level of society. Alcohol problems are often associated with such abuse, and in many cases, physical aggression toward the partner has started before marriage. Victimized women tend to have low self-confidence, little social support outside the family, and are fearful in general (Reiss & Roth, 1994).

Relatively little is known about violence against women of color. Sorenson (1996) reviews self-report surveys, which suggest that the rates of physical marital violence are 1.5 to 4 times higher for African Americans than for White Americans. For Hispanics, findings of different studies are contradictory. Sorensen remarks that data are not available for Asian American women’ experiences of intimate violence. Traditional Asian values of close family ties may both discourage physical abuse at home and support hiding such problems.

Interplay of Developmental and Social Trajectories

Developmental Phases

Function-centered approaches to developmental processes may gain little understanding of how these processes, such as cognition, personality, and emotion, are interrelated, and how they are intertwined with social trajectories, such as education, family, and work. A holistic approach tries to consider human life as a system and connect age periods of development into a pattern of individual development. The most well-known holistic approach is Erikson’ theory of eight lifespan stages (Erikson, 1950). Each stage involves a crisis or an age-specific challenge that should be satisfactorily resolved for optimal development. The theory states that a successful resolution of each crisis results in the refinement of a predominantly positive quality, such as trust in infancy, but it may also result in its counterpart, mistrust, to protect an individual from danger; some mistrust in the world is needed for self-protection. In this theory, the stages are more differentiated in childhood than in adulthood for which only three stages have been distinguished. The psychosocial crises to be solved in adulthood concern intimacy versus isolation (young adulthood), generativity versus stagnation (middle age), and integrity versus despair (old age). Common virtues or ego skills such as hope, will, purpose, and skill in childhood, fidelity in adolescence, and love, care, and wisdom in adulthood emerge as successful outcomes of the crises. Valsiner and Lawrence (1997) remark, however, that age stages are likely to be differentially represented in different cultures and historical times. For instance, adolescence, which is an important age period in European and North-American cultures, was identified as a cultural invention just a hundred years ago.

Another approach to adult life stages has been proposed by Levinson and his colleagues (Levinson, 1978, 1996). According to them, the passage from one developmental stage to another involves processes, which have been analyzed in terms of changes in ‘life structure’. Life structure has been defined as building on things that a person finds important, for instance, work, family, and health, as well as on the values and emotions that make them important. Life structure is subjected to change during transitional periods when people reappraise and restructure important things in their lives. According to this theory, people spend about half their adult lives in transitional periods.

The theory assumes that during the early adult transition (ages 17 to 22) a person begins to define his life structure, moves out from the parents’ home, and becomes independent. After a stable period in the mid-twenties a person faces a new transition period around age 30. Transitional periods occur also around ages 40, 50, and 60. Research suggests that these transitions are generally similar for men and women, but the timetable may differ and women’ life structures tend to be more varied than men’.

The transition around age 50 is often called the midlife crisis. Research has, however, failed to support the inevitability of a crisis. It seems to depend on circumstances and personality rather than on age. Many women in their early fifties rate the quality of their lives as high. They are self-confident and independent. Many also experience menopause as a positive transition that opens new possibilities for the second half of life. In non-Western cultures, the mature adulthood that accompanies the responsibilities of family management, when dominance, control, and planning are at their peak, is also the period when perceived well-being peaks (Shweder, 1997).

The idea of age-related changes in adulthood has been questioned because chronological age has not been seen as very indicative of adult development. Significant life events may take place at different ages. These events structure people’ lives with different timetables. The historical era and social circumstances may also have an impact on people’ way of thinking and behavior as can be seen in the increase in individualism among conventionally adjusted American women between 1958 and 1989, when secular trends were strong (Roberts & Helson, 1997).

A third approach to developmental stages defines developmental tasks typical of different stages. Biological changes and social demands define social roles and typical life events in people’ lives. Social demands are different at different ages, as argued by Havighurst (1948) who introduced the concept of developmental task referring to social-role demands in individuals’ lives. Developmental tasks define a basic pattern of priorities for self-development across the life span, reflecting both biological changes and age-related cultural demands. Developmental tasks are different in adolescence, adulthood, and old age, and they very across cultures (Valsiner & Lawrence, 1997).

Developmental Tasks


Developmental tasks in adolescence include, for instance, physical maturation, heterosexual relationships, internalized morality, autonomy from parents, and career choices. Adolescence is time when the competence needed to complete developmental tasks is supported by education. Competence refers to effective adaptation to the environment indicated by close social relationships with peers, prosocial behavior, academic achievement, and a sense of self-identity (Masten & Coatsworth, 1998). The antecedents of competence include effective parenting, self-regulation, and cognitive functioning. The foundations of competence lie in early development, especially in the attachment and self-regulation of emotion. They are associated with prosocial behavior and peer popularity, as well as with academic achievement.

Emotional turmoil, conflict within the family, and alienation from and hostility toward society and adult values have been labeled adolescent rebellion. This line of thought goes back to the beginning of the twentieth century when G. Stanley Hall described adolescence as a period of ‘Sturm und Drang’ (storm and stress). The phenomenon is, however, much rarer than commonly thought (Offer & Schonert-Reichl, 1992). Less than 20% of teenagers fit this pattern. Parents and their adolescent children often have similar values. An authoritative parenting style, including emotional support and an age-appropriate control over the child’ behavior, is associated with positive outcomes and the development of competence.

The development of manifested competence may also take place in individuals who have lived under adverse conditions typically indexed by high-risk status. This phenomenon is called resilience. Resilience in adolescents at risk is linked to several factors in an individual and environment, which promote competence in spite of obvious adversities or trauma. Important individual characteristics are intellectual functioning, special talents, an appealing, easy-going temperament, and faith. In the extrafamilial environment, the most important factor is a relationship with at least one caring prosocial adult. Other supporting factors are connections to prosocial organizations and attending effective schools. Within the family, a close relationship to a caring parent figure, authoritative parenting, socioeconomic advantages, and connections to extended family networks promote resilience. In the longitudinal study by Werner and Smith (1992), one-third of high risk children were resilients who grew into competent adults.

In adolescence when the rate of chronic disease is low, health problems are strongly related to lifestyle, poverty, and mental health. The use of drugs, accidents and injuries, violence, sexually transmitted diseases, suicide, and eating disorders all threaten adolescent health, as does the availability of firearms in certain societies. Long-term heavy drinking, i.e., consuming four or more drinks per day, also threatens health by resulting in disease and an increased risk of car and other accidents.

Longitudinal studies show that adolescents who begin using alcohol or drugs in their teens are likely to continue to do so into adulthood. The use of drugs is related to poorer health, delinquency, and unstable job and marital histories. Factors that predispose individuals to substance abuse include their availability, parental substance abuse, poor parenting, poor impulse control, sensation seeking, behavioral problems, school failure, peer substance abuse, and positive attitudes towards drugs (Papalia et al., 1998). Many of these factors are interrelated; for instance, poor parenting may cause poor impulse control and behavioral problems in a child which, in turn, results in school failure, choice of peers using drugs, etc.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have increased along with sexual liberation. In Western countries, adolescents have become sexually active at earlier ages, premarital sexual activity and the number of sexual partners have increased, and the double standard that once permitted more sexual freedom for males than females has been steadily eroding. Among the STDs, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) became a world-wide epidemic in the 1980s.

In wealthy societies, eating disorders have become increasingly common among adolescents. Some, especially girls, may become overly weight- and diet-conscious to the extent that they develop anorexia nervosa, obsessive dieting and loss of body weight, or bulimia nervosa, eating binges followed by attempts to avoid the high caloric intake by vomiting, exercise, or laxatives (APA, 1994). In anorexia nervosa, the body image is distorted, and the person thinks that she/he is too fat. Bulimics exhibit psychological symptoms such as shame and depression over their eating habits. The causes of eating disorders remain largely unknown. Inadequate coping skills and societal preoccupations with thinness have been offered as some factors affecting their development.


In adulthood, work, marriage, childbearing, and child rearing appear as developmental tasks. Two social trajectories are most central in adult lives: work and family. The balance between their demands affects people’ well-being. Gender differences in the subjective importance of these trajectories are smaller than what has traditionally been believed (Papalia et al., 1998).

Work is important to people not only as livelihood but also for self-esteem and human relationships. Unemployment often affects economic situation and self-esteem, and poor economic situation and poor self-esteem mediate the relationship between unemployment and psychological distress (Kokko & Pulkkinen, 1998). Gender differences in the influence of paid work and unemployment on people’ psychological well-being may even be opposite to those commonly believed in a country where women and men have equal opportunities for employment and equal rights in pay and promotion. In the Finnish Longitudinal Study of Personality and Social Development, unstable career (many changes of work place, periods of unemployment, and working positions not corresponding to one’ training) had direct effects on depression, marital hostility and poor marital quality in the random sample of women (Kinnu-nen & Pulkkinen, 1998). In men, the effects were indirect: unstable career affected the men’ lives to the extent that current economic strain increased expected financial strain, leading to greater depression and greater hostility in the marriage, and to poor marital quality. Employment itself does not, however, guarantee psychological well-being. Further analyses in the same study revealed that high time demands, low control at work, and job insecurity are linked to parenting behavior through the negative job-related affect they create. Of the indicators of negative job-related affect, job exhaustion in particular was related to child-rearing stress which, in turn, hindered child-centeredness as well as supervision in bringing up children.

Work demands may cause continuous occupational stress, which results in burnout. Burnout is characterized by three clusters of symptoms: (1) exhaustion (emotional, intellectual, physical) which may cause such ailments as insomnia, headaches and other somatic symptoms, and fatigue; (2) depersonalization (emotional detachment and cynicism); and (3) lowered professional accomplishment, self-efficacy, and self-esteem. Burnout can be relieved by changes in working conditions that promote more meaningful work. A balance between the demands of work and family life also supports effective functioning.

Most people marry in young adulthood. It has also become common in many countries for an unmarried couple to live together. This lifestyle is known as cohabitation. Because of an extended youth in part prolonged by education, many people do not feel prepared for marriage but want to have sexual relationships. Secular trends toward a more relaxed view of sex and away from religion in Western cultures have supported this development. There are also many people who remain single, or if they do marry, remain childless and devote their time and energy to career development and travel. In particular, married men tend to be healthier and happier than singles. The quality of the relationship affects, however, well-being: an unhappy relationship may be a burden.

Positive feelings about one’ spouse, sharing goals, finding a balance between intimacy and autonomy, and a commitment to long-term marriage affect marital longevity. Divorce is, however, increasingly common in many cultures. Both marrying young and having divorced parents increase the risk of divorce. Living together before marrying does not seem to improve the quality of marriage. Many divorced people remarry, but remarriages tend to be less stable than first marriages. Remarriages have changed family structures and raised the frequency of step-parenting, which causes new role demands and conflicts; the divorce and remarriage of an adult child creates also new step-grandparenting roles.

Divorce is usually painful and demands a period of adjustment from the couple, their children, and their parents. Even grown-up children may suffer from their parents’ divorce and become alienated from them. Although the majority of children whose parents have divorced come through well, there is an increased risk of adjustment problems among them which lasts until young adulthood, as longitudinal studies show.

A set of ordered stages of parenthood over the life course is known as the family cycle. The term dates back to the 1940s when Glick identified seven major events in the life cycle, such as the birth of one’ children and their departure from home, and calculated age norms for their occurrence. Marital satisfaction typically declines during the years when children are born, but the relationships typically improve after the children leave home, although the ‘empty nest’ may at first be a source of stress, especially if the parents have failed to adequately prepare for the event. Conflicts about adult status and privacy may arise if young adults live with their parents, a frequent situation due to financial difficulties or a divorce. Relationships between children and their middle-age parents are usually positive and affectionate. Frequent contact is maintained and assistance reciprocated. A double responsibility for one’ family and one’ aging parents may, however, become a source of stress.

In Western culture, adult children and their parents generally live in different households if there are financial opportunities for it. Growing up in traditional extended families with two biological parents and grandparents develops familism that enhances the implementation of parental coresidence (Szinovacz, 1997). Non-Whites are more likely to express positive attitudes toward parental coresidence than Whites.

Grandchildren are sources of great pleasure for most grandparents. Although in Western countries, grandparents do not typically become very closely involved in the rearing of their grandchildren, they often play a supporting role when problems arise. The role of grandparent is not a role in the classic sense: it is not defined by social demands or voluntarily attained, and it has mostly no legal rights. Instead, contacts between grandparents and grandchildren are mediated by a middle generation (Datan, Rod-heaver, & Hugher, 1987). Therefore, family disruptions threaten ties between grandparents and grandchildren, especially for paternal grandparents. The consequences of these types of disruptions on the well-being of aging grandparents and growing children have largely been neglected in research to date.

People become increasingly concerned about their health in middle age, although they are typically quite healthy. Chronic diseases increase only slightly during middle age in relation to early adulthood. High blood pressure is one health problem that does increase. It increases the risk of heart attack or stroke, and it is more common in men than in women. Another is cancer, a common cause of death in middle age. Women’ risk of heart disease increases after menopause, as well as the risk of osteoporosis or loss of bone mass. When bones become thin they fracture more easily. Exercise, nutrition, and avoidance of smoking reduce the risk of osteoporosis and many other diseases. Although women have a higher life-expectancy than men, they report being ill more often than men, use health services more often, and take more medications. Health comparisons between women and men are complicated by the fact that certain health problems are gender-specific, such as those affecting the female reproductive system. Women are also more health-conscious than men.

Old Age

In old age, people have to redirect their energy towards new roles, accept their lives, and cope with the physical changes of aging. In spite of the general decline in physical functioning over time, individual differences at a given age are remarkable. Some people experience sharper and earlier declines than others; a 70-year-old may have better functional capacities than someone 20 years younger. Reasons for individual differences in functional capacities are not well known; more research would be needed, for example, for the study of the influences of racial, ethnic, and cultural factors on aging processes (Jackson, Antonucci, & Gibson, 1990).

The term functional age refers to a person’ functional capacity compared with others the same age. The functional age may therefore be the same for people of different chronological ages. Since the period called old age is long and heterogeneous, three age-based substages have been differentiated by researchers: the young old (people aged 65 to 74), the old old (people aged 75 to 84), and the oldest old (people aged 85 or older). Age-based categorization does not, however, eliminate heterogeneity within groups because interindividual differences in functional capacities are large. Therefore, some researchers use the term young old to refer to healthy and active older adults, whereas old old refers to less capable older people, regardless of their chronological age.

In addition to functional age and chronological age, it is possible to speak of biological age (such as puberty), and social age (the various roles people assume such as teenager or grandparent). There are also different processes identified in aging. Primary aging is the gradual process of bodily deterioration, whereas secondary aging is the result of factors which are often within people’ control, such as substance abuse. The secondary effects of aging can be reduced by the adoption of healthy habits. Exercise and training help maintain capacities and compensate for some age-related losses.

Biological aging theories attempt to explain why and how biological aging occurs (DiGio-vanna, 1994). Genetic theories include ideas that some genes are able to control the age at which certain events occur; that the instructions in genes can be read only a limited number of times; or that there are damaged RNA and protein molecules that read the genes and spread increasing numbers of mistakes throughout the cell and the body, causing aging. There are also theories about harmful substances that accumulate in the body over a period of years and interfere with the body causing aging. Other theories state that aging is caused by hormones, particularly the hormone produced by the pituitary gland, or by the immune system which becomes weaker as it is used.

The proportion of people aged 65 or older is rapidly increasing in the world because of better nutrition, health care, and other aspects of well-being. Life expectancy at birth differs, however, in different parts of the world. For example, in 1993, it was 72 years for men and 79 for women in the United States, 58/59 in India, and 76/82 in Japan (Aiken, 1995). Women have a higher mean longevity than men. One reason for this difference is that higher levels of certain hormones (estrogen and progesterone) help protect women from specific diseases such as heart attacks (DiGiovanna, 1994). There are also differences in male and female lifestyles.

Although longevity is generally highly valued in society, many people do not want to be old. The common stereotypes of old people in Western culture are often negative and show little understanding of elderly people’ capacities. ‘Old’ in contemporary Western society often implies uselessness and a loss of status, whereas other societies, for example, agricultural societies, certain African tribes, or Eskimos may show great respect for the aged (Aiken, 1995). Prejudice or discrimination against the elderly is called agism.

Older people generally have chronic health problems, although they may have less acute health problems such as flu infections than younger people. Serious health problems limit everyday activities and cognitive functioning, and these limitations increase with age, particularly, due to disability as the consequence of multiple causes. Critical steps in functional disability can be reliably scaled as shown by a comparative study in five European countries (Ferrucci et al., 1998). Deterioration begins from activities that require dynamic balance and muscular strength and progresses to performances using hands only. Most older adults are not, however, limited in their major everyday activities by health concerns. They may even remain sexually active until their eighties if they have been sexually active during their younger years. Most older men and women can reach orgasm, although sexual activity will differ in intensity from what it was in earlier years.

Some older adults suffer from dementia which is the general term for cognitive and behavioral deterioration caused mostly by hypertension, stroke and other cardiovascular problems, Parkinson’ disease, Alzheimer’ disease, or neurological disorders. Dementia is generally irreversible, but is a disease and not merely a part of the aging process as is erroneously thought.

Different theories include contrasting conceptions of healthy aging as reviewed by M. M. Baltes and Lang (1997). The disengagement theory, proposed by Cumming and Henry in the early 1960s, maintains that there is a gradual reduction in social involvement because of the decline in physical functioning and the growing awareness of death. In contrast, the activity theory proposed by Havighurst and Albrecht in the 1950s assumes that the maintenance of activity increases the quality of aging. A more recent continuity theory by Atchley emphasizes people’ need to maintain continuity or connection with the past in their life patterns. Other models of successful aging include the Eriksonian construction of integrity, Maslow’ self-actualization, Rogers’ meaningful life, and Ryff’ integrative model based on developmental, clinical, and mental health criteria. Recent findings suggest that creative, educational, and interactive activities which facilitate a sense of control over one’ life increase well-being in old age (Herzog, Franks, Markus, & Holmberg, 1998).

A holistic view adopted in the Berlin Aging Study highlights an integrative perspective on aging and sees it as a process of interrelated constancy and change involving many factors. A cross-sectional analysis of data on individuals aged 70 to 103 years showed that those endowed with more sensorimotor-cognitive and social-personality resources exhibited fewer negative aging trends, a higher level of activity, and a greater variety of activity (M. M. Baltes & Lang, 1997). The same study also shows that large interindividual differences continue into very old age. In psychological functioning (defined as intellectual functioning, personality disposition, and social relationships), the oldest old were as heterogeneous as those in their eighties. Age-associated mortality did not reduce variability in this cross-sectional study. The functional status tends, however, to decrease with increasing age, and the likelihood of broadly based dysfunctionality increases (Smith & Baltes, 1997); the functional status tends to be lower in women than in men. Physical and sensory capacities (auditory, visual, gait) account powerfully for general age-related variance in activity. In the Finnish Evergreen project (Heikkinen et al., 1997), which is part of a study called Nordic Research on Aging (NORA) including all Nordic countries, a low psychomotor speed and a low cognitive capacity were significant predictors of subsequent death during the five-year follow-up with participants aged 75 and 80 years at the baseline measurement.

Successful Development

The interplay of developmental and social trajectories forms a unique life context for each individual and produces a unique outcome of development. To understand an individual’ successful career development, for example, one needs to consider other social trajectories in his/ her life and immediate environment, as well as his/her psychological functioning capacities. Successful development is not uniform but polyform.

Pathways to both successful development and the accumulation of social functioning problems have become evident in the Jyväskylä Longitudinal Study of Personality and Social Development. Based on the interviews of the participants, a mailed questionnaire, personality inventories, criminal records at ages 27 and 36, and previously collected data at ages 8 and 14 using peer nomination and parental rating techniques, several factors affecting successful career development could be identified. Initial school success coupled with high emotional regulation generally predicted both female and male career development (Pulkkinen, Ohranen, & Tolvanen, 1999). More generally, successful developmental paths had roots in high emotional and behavioral regulation in childhood, good school success, and good family environment. This pattern explained good psychosocial functioning in mid-adulthood comprising stable career, controlled drinking, good financial standing, socialization, self-esteem, satisfaction with life, and well-being. Correspondingly, low emotional regulation and home adversities in childhood was a risk factor for career development and the accumulation of other problems in social functioning (Rönkä, Kinnunen, & Pulkkinen, in press), as well as long-term unemployment (Kokko, Pulkkinen, & Puustinen, in press). Data were collected at the time of a severe economic recession when unemployment attacked one-fifth of people in Finland; those with high emotional regulation and social activity were more likely to be re-employed.

In the study of human development, the prediction of development or behavior is often seen as a motive for research. Future events in people’ lives are, however, rarely predictable because life is complex and development is multi-factorially determined. Instead, researchers devote their energy to explaining and understanding the course of development and the events that are included in it (Keil, 1998). The accumulation of knowledge about developmental processes can be utilized for decision making, education, and enhancement programs that aim to improve people’ lives.

Conceptualizations of successful development have been based on successful resolution of psychological crises leading finally to wisdom in old age (Erikson, 1950); accomplishment of developmental tasks (Havighurst, 1972); social and psychological adaptation (Block, 1971), and the maximization of desirable goals or outcomes and the avoidance of undesirable outcomes (Baltes et al., 1998). These conceptualizations represent different perspectives on the same lifespan process which consists of the ways in which individuals try to handle various culturally and biologically determined age-graded tasks and transitions. Successful development is exemplified within one’ socio-cultural environment. Outcomes can be seen as adjustment to society. The final criterion of successful development is that an individual can see his or her life as a meaningful totality and possibly integrate it in some way into a part of the universe.