Physical and Cognitive Development in Early Adulthood

By Santrock, J.W.

Edited by Paul Ducham


Jeffrey Arnett (2006) concluded that five key features characterize emerging adulthood:
Identity exploration, especially in love and work.  Emerging adulthood is the time during which key changes in identity take place for many individuals (Kroger, 2012; Schwarz & others, 2013).
Instability.  Residential changes peak during early adulthood, a time during which there also is often instability in love, work, and education.
Self-focused.  According to Arnett (2006, p. 10), emerging adults “are selffocused in the sense that they have little in the way of social obligations, little in the way of duties and commitments to others, which leaves them with a great deal of autonomy in running their own lives.”
Feeling in-between.  Many emerging adults don’t consider themselves adolescents or full-fledged adults.
The age of possibilities, a time when individuals have an opportunity to transform their lives.  Arnett (2006) describes two ways in which emerging adulthood is the age of possibilities: (1) many emerging adults are optimistic about their future; and (2) for emerging adults who have experienced difficult times while growing up, emerging adulthood presents an opportunity to chart their life course in a more positive direction.
Recent research indicates that these five aspects characterize not only individuals in the United States as they make the transition from adolescence to early adulthood, but also their counterparts in European countries and Australia (Arnett, 2012; Buhl & Lanz, 2007; Sirsch & others, 2009). Although emerging adulthood does not characterize development in all cultures, it does appear to occur in cultures that postpone assuming adult roles and responsibilities (Kins & Beyers, 2010). Criticism of the concept of emerging adulthood is that it applies mainly to privileged adolescents and is not always a self-determined choice for many young people, especially those in limiting socioeconomic conditions (Cote & Bynner, 2008).
An important aspect of emerging adulthood is the resilience that some individuals have and their ability to change their life in a positive direction following a troubled adolescence (Burt & Paysnick, 2011; Masten, 2013; Masten & Tellegen, 2012). Consider the changing life of Michael Maddaus (Broderick, 2003; Masten, Obradovic, & Burt, 2006). During Michael’s childhood and adolescence in Minneapolis, his mother drank heavily and his stepfather abused him. He coped by spending increasing time on the streets, being arrested more than 20 times for his delinquency, frequently being placed in detention centers, and rarely going to school. At 17, he joined the Navy and the experience helped him to gain self-discipline and hope. Aft er his brief stint in the Navy, he completed a GED and began taking community college classes. However, he continued to have some setbacks with drugs and alcohol. A defining moment during his emerging adulthood came when he delivered furniture to a surgeon’s home. The surgeon became interested in helping Michael, and his mentorship led to Michael volunteering at a rehabilitation center, then to his taking a job with a neurosurgeon. Eventually, he obtained his undergraduate degree, went to medical school, got married, and started a family. Today, Michael Maddaus is a successful surgeon. One of his most gratifying volunteer activities is telling his story to troubled youth.
In a longitudinal study, Ann Masten and her colleagues (2006) found that emerging adults who became competent after experiencing difficulties while growing up were more intelligent, experienced higher parenting quality, and were less likely to grow up in poverty or low-income circumstances than their counterparts who did not become competent as emerging adults. A further analysis focused on individuals who were still showing maladaptive patterns in emerging adulthood but had gotten their lives together by the time they were in the late twenties and early thirties. The three characteristics shared by these “late-bloomers” were support by adults, being planful, and showing positive aspects of autonomy.


In the United States, the most widely recognized marker of entry into adulthood is holding a more or less permanent, full-time job, which usually happens when an individual finishes school—high school for some, college for others, graduate or professional school for still others. However, other criteria are far from clear. Economic independence is one marker of adult status, but achieving it is often a long process. College graduates are increasingly returning to live with their parents as they attempt to establish themselves economically. A longitudinal study found that at age 25 only slightly more than half of the participants were fully financially independent of their family of origin (Cohen & others, 2003). The most dramatic findings in this study, though, involved the extensive variability in the individual trajectories of adult roles from 17 to 27 years of age; many of the participants moved back and forth between increasing and decreasing economic dependency. A recent study revealed that continued co-residence with parents during emerging adulthood slowed down the process of becoming a self-sufficient and independent adult (Kins & Beyers, 2010).
Other studies suggest that taking responsibility for oneself may be an important marker of adult status for many individuals. In one study, both parents and college students agreed that taking responsibility for one’s actions and developing emotional control are important aspects of becoming an adult (Nelson & others, 2007).
What we have identified as markers of adult status mainly characterize individuals in industrialized societies, especially Americans. Are the criteria for adulthood the same in developing countries as they are in the United States? In developing countries, marriage is more often a significant marker for entry into adulthood, and this usually occurs much earlier than the adulthood markers in the United States (Arnett, 2004). In a recent study, the majority of 18- to 26-year-olds in India felt that they had achieved adulthood (Seiter & Nelson, 2011).


For many individuals in developed countries, graduating from high school and going to college is an important aspect of the transition to adulthood (Bowman, 2010). Just as the transition from elementary school to middle or junior high school involves change and possible stress, so does the transition from high school to college. The two transitions have many parallels. Going from being a senior in high school to being a freshman in college replays the top-dog phenomenon of transferring from the oldest and most powerful group of students to the youngest and least powerful group of students that occurred as adolescence began. For many students, the transition from high school to college involves movement to a larger, more impersonal school structure; interaction with peers from more diverse geographical and sometimes more diverse ethnic backgrounds; and increased focus on achievement and its assessment. And like the transition from elementary to middle or junior high school, the transition from high school to college can involve positive features. Students are more likely to feel grown up, have more subjects from which to select, have more time to spend with peers, have more opportunities to explore different lifestyles and values, enjoy greater independence from parental monitoring, and be challenged intellectually by academic work (Halonen & Santrock, 2013).
Today’s college students experience more stress and are more depressed than students in previous generations, according to a national study of more than 200,000 freshmen at more than 400 colleges and universities (Pryor, DeAngelo, & Blake, 2011). And a national survey conducted by the American College Health Association (2008) of more than 90,000 students on 177 campuses revealed that feeling things are hopeless, feeling overwhelmed with all they have to do, feeling mentally exhausted, feeling sad, and feeling depressed are not uncommon among college students. Figure 13.1 indicates the percentage of students who had these feelings and how many times a year they experienced them.
Most college campuses have a counseling center that provides access to mental health professionals who can help students learn effective ways to cope with stress. Counselors can provide good information about coping with stress and dealing with academic challenges.



Most of us reach our peak levels of physical performance before the age of 30, often between the ages of 19 and 26. This peak of physical performance occurs not only for the average young adult, but for outstanding athletes as well. Different types of athletes, however, reach their peak performances at different ages. Most swimmers and gymnasts peak in their late teens. Golfers and marathon runners tend to peak in their late twenties. In other areas of athletics, peak performance oft en occurs in the early to mid-twenties. However, in recent years, some highly conditioned athletes—such as Dana Torres (Olympic swimming), Lance Armstrong (cycling), and Tom Watson (golf)—have stretched the upper age limits of award-winning performances.
Not only do we reach our peak in physical performance during early adulthood, but it is also during this age period that we begin to decline in physical performance. Muscle tone and strength usually begin to show signs of decline around the age of 30. Sagging chins and protruding abdomens also may begin to appear for the first time. The lessening of physical abilities is a common complaint among the just-turned thirties.


Emerging adults have more than twice the mortality rate of adolescents (Park & others, 2006) (see Figure 13.2). As indicated in Figure 13.2, males are mainly responsible for the higher mortality rate of emerging adults.
Although emerging adults have a higher death rate than adolescents, emerging adults have few chronic health problems, and they have fewer colds and respiratory problems than when they were children (Rimsza & Kirk, 2005). Although most college students know what it takes to prevent illness and promote health, they don’t fare very well when it comes to applying this information to themselves (Murphy-Hoefer, Alder, & Higbee, 2004). In many cases, emerging adults are not as healthy as they seem (Fatusi & Hindin, 2010). A recent study revealed that college students from low-SES backgrounds engaged in lower levels of physical activity, ate more fast food and less fruits/vegetables, and showed unhealthy weight control than their higher-SES counterparts (VanKim & Laska, 2012).
A longitudinal study revealed that most bad health habits that were engaged in during adolescence increased in emerging adulthood (Harris & others, 2006). Inactivity, diet, obesity, substance abuse, reproductive health care, and health care access worsened in emerging adulthood. For example, when they were 12 to 18 years of age, only 5 percent reported no weekly exercise, but when they became 19 to 26 years of age, 46 percent said they did not exercise during a week.
In emerging and early adulthood, few individuals stop to think about how their personal lifestyles will affect their health later in their adult lives. As emerging adults, many of us develop a pattern of not eating breakfast, not eating regular meals, and relying on snacks as our main food source during the day, overeating to the point where we exceed the normal weight for our age, smoking moderately or excessively, drinking moderately or excessively, failing to exercise, and getting by with only a few hours of sleep at night (Cousineau, Goldstein, & Franco, 2005). These lifestyles are associated with poor health, which in turn diminishes life satisfaction. In the Berkeley Longitudinal Study—in which individuals were evaluated over a period of 40 years—physical health at age 30 predicted life satisfaction at age 70, more so for men than for women (Mussen, Honzik, & Eichorn, 1982).
One study explored links between health behavior and life satisfaction in more than 17,000 individuals 17 to 30 years of age in 21 countries (Grant, Wardle, & Steptoe, 2009). The young adults’ life satisfaction was positively related to not smoking, exercising regularly, using sun protection, eating fruit, and limiting fat intake, but was not related to alcohol consumption and fiber intake.
The health profile of emerging and young adults can be improved by reducing the incidence of certain health-impairing lifestyles, such as overeating, and by engaging in health-improving lifestyles that include good eating habits, regular exercise, abstaining from drugs, and getting adequate sleep (Cheng & others, 2012; Lachausse, 2012; Monahan & others, 2012).



Obesity is not only a problem for many children and adolescents but also a serious and pervasive problem for many adults (Corsica & Perri, 2013; Donatelle, 2013). A recent national survey found that 27 percent of U.S. 20- to 39-year-olds were obese (National Center for Health Statistics, 2011a). A recent analysis predicted that 42 percent of U.S. adults will be obese in 2030 (Finkelstein & others, 2012).
A recent international comparison of 33 developed countries revealed that the United States had the highest percentage of obese adults (OECD, 2010). Figure 13.3 shows the developed countries with the highest and lowest percentages of obese adults.
Being overweight or obese is linked to increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (Insel & Roth, 2012; O’Callahan & others, 2013). Overweight and obesity also are associated with mental health problems. For example, a recent meta-analysis revealed that overweight women were more likely to be depressed than women who were not overweight, but no significant difference was found for men (de Wit & others, 2010).
What factors are involved in obesity? The possible culprits include heredity, leptin, set point, metabolism, environmental factors, and dieting.
Heredity  Until recently, the genetic component of obesity was underestimated by scientists. Some individuals inherit a tendency to be overweight (Loos, 2012). Researchers have documented that animals can be inbred to have a propensity for obesity (Brown & others, 2011). Further, identical human twins have similar weights, even when they are reared apart (Collaku & others, 2004).
Leptin  Leptin (from the Greek word leptos, which means “thin”) is a protein that is involved in satiety (the condition of being full to satisfaction) and released by fat cells, resulting in decreased food intake and increased energy expenditure. Leptin acts as an antiobesity hormone. In humans, leptin concentrations have been linked with weight, percentage of body fat, weight loss in a single diet episode, and cumulative percentage of weight loss (Rider & others, 2010). Some scientists are interested in the possibility that leptin might help obese individuals lose weight (Dubern & Clement, 2012; Williams & Schwartz, 2011). A recent study found that when obese individuals engaged in regular exercise, they lost weight, which was associated with changes in leptin levels (Rider & others, 2010).
Set Point  The amount of stored fat in your body is an important factor in your set point, the weight you maintain when you make no effort to gain or lose weight. Fat is stored in what are called adipose cells. When these cells are filled, you do not get hungry. When people gain weight, the number of their fat cells increases. A normal-weight individual has 30 to 40 billion fat cells. An obese individual has 80 to 120 billion fat cells. Some scientists have proposed that these fat cells can shrink but might not go away.
Environmental Factors  Environmental factors play an important role in obesity (Thompson & Manore, 2013; Veerman & others, 2012; Willett, 2013). The human genome has not changed markedly in the last century, yet obesity has noticeably increased. The obesity rate has doubled in the United States since 1900. This dramatic increase in obesity likely is due to greater availability of food (especially food high in fat), greater reliance on energy-saving devices, and declining physical activity. One study found that in 2000, U.S. women ate 335 more calories a day and men 168 more calories a day than they did in the early 1970s (National Center for Health Statistics, 2004). Sociocultural factors are involved in obesity, which is six times more prevalent among women with low incomes than among women with high incomes. Americans also are more obese than Europeans and people in many other areas of the world (OECD, 2010).
Dieting  Ironically, although obesity is on the rise, dieting has become an obsession with many Americans (Schiff, 2013). Although many Americans regularly embark on a diet, few are successful in keeping weight off over the long term and many dieters risk becoming fatter (Dulloo, Jacquet, & Montani, 2012; Pietilainen & others, 2012). A research review of the longterm outcomes of calorie-restricting diets revealed that overall one-third to two-thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets (Mann & others, 2007). However, some individuals do lose weight and maintain the loss (Chambers & Swanson, 2012; Cooper & others, 2012). How oft en this occurs and whether some diet programs work better than others are still open questions. What we do know about losing weight is that the most effective programs include exercise (Palu, West, & Jensen, 2011; Snel & others, 2012). A recent research review concluded that adults who engaged in diet-plus-exercise programs lost more weight than those who relied on diet-only programs (Wu & others, 2009). A study of approximately 2,000 U.S. adults found that exercising 30 minutes a day, planning meals, and weighing themselves daily were the main strategies used by successful dieters as compared with unsuccessful dieters (Kruger, Blanck, & Gillespie, 2006) (see Figure 13.4). Another study also revealed that daily weigh-ins are linked to maintaining weight loss (Wing & others, 2007). The National Weight Control Registry is an ongoing examination of individuals who have lost 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year. Research on these successful dieters provides important information about losing weight and maintaining the weight loss (Ogden & others, 2012). One of the most consistent findings is that these successful dieters engage in a high level of physical activity (Catenacci & others, 2008).




One of the main reasons that health experts want people to exercise is that it helps to prevent chronic disorders such as heart disease and diabetes (Fahey, Insel, & Roth, 2013). Many health experts recommend that young adults engage in 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise a day, preferably every day. Aerobic exercise is sustained exercise—jogging, swimming, or cycling, for example—that stimulates heart and lung activity. Most health experts recommend that you raise your heart rate to at least 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. Only about one-fifth of adults, however, achieve these recommended levels of physical activity.
Researchers have found that exercise benefits not only physical health, but mental health as well. In particular, exercise improves self-concept and reduces anxiety and depression (Jazaieri & others, 2012; Sturm & others, 2012; Villaverde Guitierrez & others, 2012). Meta-analyses have shown that exercise can be as effective in reducing depression as psychotherapy (Richardson & others, 2005).
Research on the benefits of exercise suggests that both moderate and intense activities produce important physical and psychological gains. The enjoyment and pleasure we derive from exercise, added to its aerobic benefits, make exercise one of life’s most important activities (Donatelle, 2013; Fahey, Insel, & Roth, 2013). A recent study of college students revealed that males’ motivation to exercise involved strength, challenge, and competition, whereas females’ motivation focused more on weight management and appearance (Egli & others, 2011).
Here are some helpful strategies for making exercise part of your life:
Reduce TV time.  Heavy TV viewing is linked to poor health and obesity. A recent study revealed that compared with individuals who watch no TV, watching TV 6 hours a day reduces life expectancy by 4.8 years (Veerman & others, 2012). Replace some of your TV time with exercise.
Chart your progress.  Systematically recording your exercise workouts will help you to chart your progress. Th is strategy is especially helpful over the long term.
Get rid of excuses.  People make up all kinds of excuses for not exercising. A typical excuse is “I don’t have enough time.” You likely do have enough time.
Imagine the alternative.  Ask yourself whether you are too busy to take care of your own health. What will your life be like if you lose your health?


Let’s examine two problems associated with drinking: binge drinking and alcoholism.
Binge Drinking  Heavy binge drinking often increases in college, and it can take its toll on students (Kinney, 2012). Chronic binge drinking is more common among college men than women and students living away from home, especially in fraternity houses (Chen & Jacobson, 2012; Schulenberg & others, 2000).
In 2010, 37 percent of U.S. college students reported having had 5 or more drinks in a row at least once in the last two weeks (Johnston & others, 2011). In the most recent survey, the Institute of Social Research introduced the term extreme binge drinking to describe individuals who had 10 or more drinks in a row. In 2010 approximately 13 percent of college students reported drinking this heavily (Johnston & others, 2011). While still at a very high rate, college student drinking, including binge drinking, has declined in recent years. For example, binge drinking declined 4 percent from 2007 to 2010 (Johnston & others, 2011). In a national survey of drinking patterns on 140 campuses, almost half of the binge drinkers reported problems that included absence from classes, physical injuries, troubles with police, and unprotected sex (Wechsler & others, 2002). For example, binge-drinking college students were 11 times as likely to fall behind in school, 10 times as likely to drive after drinking, and twice as likely to have unprotected sex as college students who did not engage in binge drinking. Drinking alcohol before going out—called pregaming—has become common among college students (Bachrach & others, 2012; LaBrie & others, 2011). A recent study revealed that almost two-thirds of students on one campus had pregamed at least once during a two-week period (DeJong, DeRicco, & Schneider, 2010). Another recent study found that two-thirds of 18- to 24-year-old women on one college pregamed (Read, Merrill, & Bytschkow, 2010). Drinking games, in which the goal is to become intoxicated, also have become common on college campuses (Cameron & others, 2010). Higher levels of alcohol use have been consistently linked to higher rates of sexual risk taking, such as engaging in casual sex, sex without using contraception, and sexual assaults (Gilmore, Granato, & Lewis, 2012; Khan & others, 2012).
When does binge drinking peak during development? A longitudinal study revealed that binge drinking peaks at about 21 to 22 years of age and then declines through the remainder of the twenties (Bachman & others, 2002) (see Figure 13.5).
Alcoholism  Alcoholism is a disorder that involves long-term, repeated, uncontrolled, compulsive, and excessive use of alcoholic beverages and impairs the drinker’s health and social relationships. One in nine individuals who drink will become an alcoholic. Those who do are disproportionately related to alcoholics (Gordh, Brkic, & Soderpalm, 2011). Family studies consistently reveal a high frequency of alcoholism in the first-degree relatives of alcoholics (Kramer & others, 2008). An estimated 50 to 60 percent of individuals who become alcoholics are believed to have a genetic predisposition for it.
Although studies reveal a genetic influence on alcoholism (Li, Zhao, & Gelenter, 2012; Nunez & Mayfield, 2012), they also show that environmental factors play a role. For example, family studies indicate that many individuals who suffer from alcoholism do not have close relatives who are addicted to alcohol (McCutcheon & others, 2012). Large cultural variations in alcohol use also underscore the environment’s role in alcoholism. For example, Orthodox Jews and Mormons have especially low rates of alcohol use and alcoholism.
About one-third of alcoholics recover, whether or not they are ever in a treatment program. This figure was found in a long-term study of 700 individuals over 50 years and has consistently been found by other researchers as well (Vaillant, 1992). There is a “one-third rule’’ for alcoholism: By age 65, one-third are dead or in terrible shape, one-third are abstinent or drinking socially, and one-third are still trying to beat their addiction. A positive outcome and recovery from alcoholism are predicted by certain factors: (1) a strong negative experience related to drinking, such as a serious medical emergency or condition; (2) finding a substitute dependency to compete with alcohol abuse, such as meditation, exercise, or overeating (which of course has its own negative health consequences); (3) having new social supports (such as a concerned, helpful employer or a new marriage); and (4) joining an inspirational group, such as a religious organization or Alcoholics Anonymous (Vaillant, 1992).



Converging evidence from a number of studies underscores the dangers of smoking or being around those who do (American Cancer Society, 2012). For example, smoking is linked to 30 percent of cancer deaths, 21 percent of heart disease deaths, and 82 percent of chronic pulmonary disease deaths. Secondhand smoke is implicated in as many as 9,000 lung cancer deaths a year. Children of smokers are at special risk for respiratory and middle-ear diseases (Hwang & others, 2012; Stosic & others, 2012).
Fewer people smoke today than in the past, and almost half of all living adults who ever smoked have quit. In the United States, the prevalence of smoking in individuals 18 years and older has dropped from 42 percent in 1965 to 19 percent in 2010 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). However, more than 50 million Americans still smoke cigarettes today. Cigarette smoking accounts for approximately 450,000 deaths, or 1 in 5 deaths, annually in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012).
Most adult smokers would like to quit, but their addiction to nicotine oft en makes quitting a challenge (Baimel, Borgland, & Corrigall, 2012; Verdejo-Garcia, Clark, & Dunn, 2012). Nicotine, the active drug in cigarettes, is a stimulant that increases the smoker’s energy and alertness, a pleasurable and reinforcing experience (Swan & others, 2013). Nicotine also stimulates neurotransmitters (especially dopamine) that have a calming or pain-reducing effect (Cahill, Stead, & Lancaster, 2012).


At the beginning of emerging adulthood (age 18), surveys indicate that slightly more than 60 percent of individuals have experienced sexual intercourse, but by the end of emerging adulthood (age 25), most individuals have had sexual intercourse (Lefk owitz & Gillen, 2006). Also, the average age of marriage in the United States is currently 28 for males and 26 for females (Copen & others, 2012). Thus, emerging adulthood is a time frame during which most individuals are both sexually active and unmarried (Lefk owitz & Gillen, 2006).
Patterns of heterosexual behavior for males and females in emerging adulthood include the following (Lefk owitz & Gillen, 2006):
• Males have more casual sexual partners, and females report being more selective about their choice of a sexual partner.
• Approximately 60 percent of emerging adults have had sexual intercourse with only one individual in the past year, but compared with young adults in their late twenties and thirties, emerging adults are more likely to have had sexual intercourse with two or more individuals.
• Although emerging adults have sexual intercourse with more individuals than young adults, they have sex less frequently. Approximately 25 percent of emerging adults report having sexual intercourse only a couple of times a year or not at all (Michael & others, 1994).
• Casual sex is more common in emerging adulthood than in young adulthood. A recent trend has involved “hooking up” to have non-relationship sex (from kissing to intercourse) (Holman & Sillars, 2012; Olmstead, Pasley, & Fincham, 2012).


Here are some of the key findings from the 1994 Sex in America survey:
• Americans tend to fall into three categories: One-third have sex twice a week or more, one-third a few times a month, and one-third a few times a year or not at all.
• Married (and cohabiting) couples have sex more oft en than noncohabiting couples (see Figure 13.6).
• Most Americans do not engage in kinky sexual acts. When asked about their favorite sexual acts, the vast majority (96 percent) said that vaginal sex was “very” or “somewhat” appealing. Oral sex was in third place, after an activity that many have not labeled a sexual act—watching a partner undress.
• Adultery is clearly the exception rather than the rule. Nearly 75 percent of the married men and 85 percent of the married women indicated that they have never been unfaithful.
• Men think about sex far more often than women do—54 percent of the men said they think about it every day or several times a day, whereas 67 percent of the women said they think about it only a few times a week or a few times a month.
In sum, one of the most powerful messages in the 1994 survey was that Americans’ sexual lives are more conservative than was previously believed. Although, 17 percent of the men and 3 percent of the women said they have had sex with at least 21 partners, the overall impression from the survey was that sexual behavior is ruled by marriage and monogamy for most Americans.
How extensive are gender differences in sexuality? A recent meta-analysis revealed that men reported having slightly more sexual experience and more permissive attitudes than women for most aspects of sexuality (Petersen & Hyde, 2010). For the following factors, stronger differences were found: Men indicated that they engaged more in masturbation, pornography use, and casual sex, and they held more permissive attitudes about casual sex than their female counterparts.
Given all of the media and public attention to the negative aspects of sexuality—such as adolescent pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, rape, and so on—it is important to underscore that research has strongly supported the role of sexual activity in well-being (Brody, 2010). For example, in a recent Swedish study frequency of sexual intercourse was strongly related to life satisfaction for both men and women (Brody & Costa, 2009).

Fig 13.6


In the Sex in America survey, 2.7 percent of the men and 1.3 percent of the women reported having had same-sex relations in the past year (Michael & others, 1994). Why are some individuals lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) and others heterosexual? Speculation about this question has been extensive (Crooks & Baur, 2011).
Until the end of the nineteenth century, it was generally believed that people were either heterosexual or homosexual. Today, sexual orientation is generally seen not as an either/or proposition but as a continuum ranging from exclusive male-female relations to exclusive same-sex relations (King, 2013). Some individuals are bisexual, being sexually attracted to people of both sexes.
All people, regardless of their sexual orientation, have similar physiological responses during sexual arousal and seem to be aroused by the same types of tactile stimulation. Investigators typically find no differences between LGBs and heterosexuals in a wide range of attitudes, behaviors, and adjustments (Fingerhut & Peplau, 2013).
Recently, researchers have explored the possible biological basis of same-sex relations. The results of hormone studies have been inconsistent. If gays are given male sex hormones (androgens), their sexual orientation doesn’t change. Their sexual desire merely increases. A very early prenatal critical period might influence sexual orientation (Berenbaum & Beltz, 2011). If this critical-period hypothesis turns out to be correct, it would explain why clinicians have found that sexual orientation is difficult, if not impossible, to modify.
An individual’s sexual orientation—same-sex, heterosexual, or bisexual—is most likely determined by a combination of genetic, hormonal, cognitive, and environmental factors (King, 2013; Yarber, Sayad, & Strong, 2013). Most experts on same-sex relations point out that no single factor alone causes sexual orientation and that the relative weight of each factor can vary from one individual to the next.
Researchers have examined the role of genes in sexual orientation by using twins to estimate the genetic and environmental contributions to sexual orientation. A recent Swedish study of almost 4,000 twins demonstrated that only about 35 percent of the variation in homosexual behavior in men and 19 percent in women were explained by genetic differences (Langstrom & others, 2010). This result indicates that although genes likely play a role in sexual orientation, their influence is not as strong in explaining sexuality as it is for other characteristics such as intelligence (King, 2013).


Many gender differences that appear in heterosexual relationships also occur in same-sex relationships (Diamond & Savin-Williams, 2013; Savin-Williams, 2013). For example, like heterosexual women, lesbians have fewer sexual partners than gay men, and lesbians have less permissive attitudes about casual sex outside a primary relationship than gay men do (Fingerhut & Peplau, 2013).
How do lesbians and gays adapt to a world in which they are a minority? According to psychologist Laura Brown (1989), lesbians and gays experience life as a minority in a dominant, majority culture. For lesbians and gays, developing a bicultural identity creates new ways of defining themselves. Brown maintains that lesbians and gays adapt best when they don’t define themselves in polarities, such as trying to live in an encapsulated lesbian or gay world completely divorced from the majority culture or completely accepting the dictates and biases of the majority culture. Balancing the demands of the two cultures—the minority lesbian/gay culture and the majority heterosexual culture—can often lead to more effective coping for lesbians and gays, says Brown.
A special concern involving sexual minority individuals are the hate crimes and stigmarelated experiences they encounter (Lewis, Kholodkov, & Derlega, 2012). In one study, approximately 20 percent of sexual minority adults reported having experienced a person or property crime related to their sexual orientation, and about 50 percent said they had experienced verbal harassment (Herek, 2009).


Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are diseases that are primarily spread through sexual contact—intercourse as well as oral-genital and anal-genital sex. STIs affect about one in six U.S. adults (National Center for Health Statistics, 2011b). Among the most prevalent STIs are bacterial infections (such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia) and STIs caused by viruses—genital herpes, genital warts, and HIV, which can lead to AIDS. Figure 13.7 describes several sexually transmitted infections.
No single STI has had a greater impact on sexual behavior, or created more public fear in the last several decades, than infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV is a sexually transmitted infection that destroys the body’s immune system. Once a person is infected with HIV, the virus breaks down and overpowers the immune system, which leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). An individual sick with AIDS has such a weakened immune system that a common cold can be life threatening.
In 2010, 1.2 million people in the United States were living with an HIV infection (National Center for Health Statistics, 2012). In 2010, male-male sexual contact continued to be the most frequent AIDS transmission category. Because of education and the development of more effective drug treatments, deaths due to HIV/AIDS have begun to decline in the United States (National Center for Health Statistics, 2012).

Globally, the total number of individuals living with HIV was 34 million at the end of 2010, with 22 million of these individuals with HIV living in sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately half of all new HIV infections around the world occur in the 15- to 24-year-old age category. The good news is that global rates of HIV infection fell nearly 25 percent from 2001 to 2009 with substantial decreases in India and South Africa (UNAIDS, 2011). In a recent study, only 49 percent of 15- to 24-year-old females in low- and middle-income countries knew that using a condom helps to prevent HIV infection, compared with 74 percent of young males (UNAIDS, 2011).
What are some effective strategies for protecting against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections? They include the following:
Know your risk status and that of your partner.  Anyone who has had previous sexual activity with another person might have contracted an STI without being aware of it. Spend time getting to know a prospective partner before you have sex. Use this time to inform the other person of your STI status and inquire about your partner’s. Remember that many people lie about their STI status.
Obtain medical examinations.  Many experts recommend that couples who want to begin a sexual relationship have a medical checkup to rule out STIs before they engage in sex. If cost is an issue, contact your campus health service or a public health clinic.
Have protected, not unprotected, sex.  When used correctly, latex condoms help to prevent many STIs from being transmitted. Condoms are most effective in preventing gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and HIV. They are less effective against the spread of herpes.
Do not have sex with multiple partners.  One of the best predictors of getting an STI is having sex with multiple partners. Having more than one sex partner elevates the likelihood that you will encounter an infected partner.



Rape is forcible sexual intercourse with a person who does not give consent. Legal definitions of rape differ from state to state. For example, in some states husbands are not prohibited from forcing their wives to have intercourse, although this has been challenged in several of those states.
Because victims may be reluctant to suffer the consequences of reporting rape, the actual incidence is not easily determined (Spohn & Tellis, 2012; Willoughby & others, 2012). Nearly 200,000 rapes are reported each year in the United States. A recent study of college women who had been raped revealed that only 11.5 percent of them reported the rape to authorities and of those for which the rape involved drugs and/or alcohol, only 2.7 percent of the rapes were reported (Wolitzky-Taylor & others, 2011).
Although most victims of rape are women, rape of men does occur (Bullock & Beckson, 2011). Men in prisons are especially vulnerable to rape, usually by heterosexual males who use rape as a means of establishing their dominance and power (Barth, 2012).
Why does rape of women occur so often in the United States? Among the causes given are that males are socialized to be sexually aggressive, to regard women as inferior beings, and to view their own pleasure as the most important objective in sexual relations (Beech, Ward, & Fisher, 2006; Davies, Gilston, & Rogers, 2012). Researchers have found that male rapists share the following characteristics: aggression enhances their sense of power or masculinity; they are angry at women in general; and they want to hurt and humiliate their victims (Yarber, Sayad, & Strong, 2013). A recent study revealed that a higher level of men’s sexual narcissism (assessed by these factors: sexual exploitation, sexual entitlement, low sexual empathy, and sexual skill) was linked to a greater likelihood that they would engage in sexual aggression (Widman & McNulty, 2010). A recent study also revealed that regardless of whether or not the victim was using substances, sexual assault was more likely to occur when the offender was using substances (Brecklin & Ullman, 2010).
Rape is a traumatic experience for the victims and those close to them (Jozkowski & Sanders, 2012). As victims strive to get their lives back to normal, they may experience depression, fear, anxiety, and increased substance use for months or years (Amstadter & others, 2011). Many victims make changes in their lives—such as moving to a new apartment or refusing to go out at night. Recovery depends on the victim’s coping abilities, psychological adjustment prior to the assault, and social support. Parents, a partner, and others close to the victim can provide important support for recovery, as can mental health professionals (Ahrens & Aldana, 2012; Resick & others, 2012).
An increasing concern is date or acquaintance rape, which is coercive sexual activity directed at someone with whom the perpetrator is at least casually acquainted (Albright, Stevens, & Beussman, 2012; Angelone, Mitchell, & Lucente, 2012). In one survey, two-thirds of female college freshmen reported having been date raped or having experienced an attempted date rape at least once (Watts & Zimmerman, 2002). About two-thirds of college men admit that they fondle women against their will, and half admit to forcing sexual activity.
A number of colleges and universities describe the red zone as a period of time early in the first year of college when women are at especially high risk for unwanted sexual experiences. One study revealed that first-year women were more at risk for unwanted sexual experiences, especially early in the fall term, than second-year women (Kimble & others, 2008).


Sexual harassment is a manifestation of power of one person over another. It takes many forms, ranging from inappropriate sexual remarks and physical contact (patting, brushing against another person’s body) to blatant propositions and sexual assaults. Millions of women experience sexual harassment each year in work and educational settings (Snyder, Scherer, & Fisher, 2012). Sexual harassment of men by women also occurs but to a far lesser extent than sexual harassment of women by men.
In a recent survey of 2,000 college women, 62 percent reported having experienced sexual harassment while attending college (American Association of University Women, 2006). Most of the college women said that the sexual harassment involved noncontact forms such as crude jokes, remarks, and gestures. However, almost one-third said that the sexual harassment was physical in nature. Sexual harassment can result in serious psychological consequences for the victim. The elimination of this type of exploitation requires the establishment of work and academic environments that provide women and men with equal opportunities to develop a career and obtain an education in a climate free of sexual harassment (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2012).


Piaget concluded that an adolescent and an adult think qualitatively in the same way. That is, Piaget argued that at approximately 11 to 15 years of age, adolescents enter the formal operational stage, which is characterized by more logical, abstract, and idealistic thinking than the concrete operational thinking of 7- to 11-year-olds. Piaget did stress that young adults are more quantitatively advanced in their thinking in the sense that they have more knowledge than adolescents. He also reasoned, as do information-processing psychologists, that adults especially increase their knowledge in a specific area, such as a physicist’s understanding of physics or a financial analyst’s knowledge about finance. According to Piaget, however, formal operational thought is the final stage in cognitive development, and it characterizes adults as well as adolescents.
Some developmentalists theorize it is not until adulthood that many individuals consolidate their formal operational thinking. That is, they may begin to plan and hypothesize about intellectual problems in adolescence, but they become more systematic and sophisticated at this process as young adults. Nonetheless, even many adults do not think in formal operational ways (Keating, 2004).


Some theorists have pieced together these descriptions of adult thinking and have proposed that young adults move into a new qualitative stage of cognitive development, postformal thought (Sinnott, 2003). Postformal thought is:
Reflective, relativistic, and contextual. As young adults engage in solving problems, they might think deeply about many aspects of work, politics, relationships, and other areas of life (Labouvie-Vief, 1986). They find that what might be the best solution to a problem at work (with a boss or co-worker) might not be the best solution at home (with a romantic partner). Thus, postformal thought holds that the correct answer to a problem requires reflective thinking and may vary from one situation to another. Some psychologists argue that reflective thinking continues to increase and becomes more internal and less contextual in middle age (Mascalo & Fischer, 2010; Labouvie-Vief, Gruhn, & Studer, 2010).
Provisional.  Many young adults also become more skeptical about the truth and seem unwilling to accept an answer as final. Thus, they come to see the search for truth as an ongoing and perhaps never-ending process.
Realistic.  Young adults understand that thinking can’t always be abstract. In many instances, it must be realistic and pragmatic.
Recognized as being influenced by emotion.  Emerging and young adults are more likely than adolescents to understand that their thinking is influenced by emotions (Labouvie-Vief, 2009; Labouvie-Vief, Gruhn, & Studer, 2010). However, too often negative emotions produce thinking that is distorted and self-serving at this point in development.
One effort to assess postformal thinking is the 10-item Complex Postformal Thought Questionnaire (Sinnott & Johnson, 1997). Figure 13.9 presents the questionnaire and gives you an opportunity to evaluate your thinking at the postformal level. A recent study found that the questionnaire items reflect three main categories of postformal thinking: (1) Taking into account multiple aspects of a problem or situation; (2) Making a subjective choice in a particular problem situation; and (3) Perceiving underlying complexities in a situation (Cartwright & others, 2009).
A study using the Complex Postformal Thought Questionnaire revealed that college students who had more cross-category friends (based on categories of gender, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation) scored higher on the postformal thought measure than their counterparts who had fewer cross-category friends (Galupo, Cartwright, & Savage, 2010). Cross-category friendships likely stimulate individuals to move beyond either/or thinking, critically evaluate stereotypical thinking, and consider alternative explanations.
How strong is the evidence for a fifth, postformal stage of cognitive development? Researchers have found that young adults are more likely to engage in postformal thinking than adolescents are (Commons & Bresette, 2006). But critics argue that research has yet to document that postformal thought is a qualitatively more advanced stage than formal operational thought.



Early adulthood is a time of great creativity for some people. At the age of 30, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, Hans Christian Andersen wrote his first volume of fairy tales, and Mozart composed The Marriage of Figaro. One early study of creativity found that individuals’ most creative products were generated in their thirties and that 80 percent of the most important creative contributions were completed by age 50 (Lehman, 1960).
More recently, researchers have found that creativity does peak in adulthood and then decline, but that the peak often occurs in the forties. However, qualifying any conclusion about age and creative accomplishments are (1) the magnitude of the decline in productivity, (2) contrasts across creative domains, and (3) individual differences in lifetime output (Simonton, 1996).
Even though a decline in creative contributions is often found in the fifties and later, the decline is not as great as is commonly thought. An impressive array of creative accomplishments occur in late adulthood. One of the most remarkable examples of creative accomplishment in late adulthood can be found in the life of Henri Chevreul. After a distinguished career as a physicist, Chevreul switched fields in his nineties to become a pioneer in gerontological research. He published his last research paper just a year prior to his death at the age of 103!
Any consideration of decline in creativity with age requires attention to the field of creativity involved. In such fields as philosophy and history, older adults oft en show as much creativity as they did when they were in their thirties and forties. By contrast, in such fields as lyric poetry, abstract math, and theoretical physics, the peak of creativity is often reached in the twenties or thirties.
There also is extensive individual variation in the lifetime output of creative individuals. Typically, the most productive creators in any field are far more prolific than their least productive counterparts. The contrast is so extreme that the top 10 percent of creative producers frequently account for 50 percent of the creative output in a particular field. For instance, only 16 composers account for half of the music regularly performed in the classical repertoire.


Many children have idealistic fantasies about what they want to be when they grow up. For example, many young children want to be superheroes, sports stars, or movie actors. In the high school years, they often have begun to think about careers from a somewhat less idealistic perspective. In their late teens and early twenties, their career decision making has usually turned more serious as they explore different career possibilities and zero in on the career they want to enter. In college, this often means choosing a major or specialization that is designed to lead to work in a particular field. By their early and mid-twenties, many individuals have completed their education or training and started to enter a full-time occupation. From the mid-twenties through the remainder of early adulthood, individuals often seek to establish their emerging career in a particular field. They may work hard to move up the career ladder and improve their financial standing.
Phyllis Moen (2009a) recently described the career mystique—an ingrained cultural belief that engaging in hard work for long hours through adulthood will lead to status, security, and happiness. That is, many individuals envision a career path that will enable them to fulfill the American dream of upward mobility by climbing occupational ladders. However, the lockstep career mystique has never been a reality for many individuals, especially ethnic minority individuals, women, and poorly educated adults. Further, the career mystique has increasingly become a myth for many individuals in middle-income occupations as global outsourcing of jobs and the 2007–2009 recession have threatened the job security of millions of Americans.


Here we expand on William Damon's (2008) view and explore how purpose is a missing ingredient in many adolescents’ and emerging adults’ achievement and career development. Too many youth drift aimlessly through their high school and college years, Damon says, engaging in behavior that places them at risk for not fulfilling their potential and not finding a life pursuit that energizes them.
In interviews with 12- to 22-year-olds, Damon found that only about 20 percent had a clear vision of where they wanted to go in life, what they wanted to achieve, and why. The largest percentage—about 60 percent—had engaged in some potentially purposeful activities, such as service learning or fruitful discussions with a career counselor—but they still did not have a real commitment or any reasonable plans for reaching their goals. And slightly more than 20 percent expressed no aspirations and in some instances said they didn’t see any reason to have aspirations.
Damon concludes that most teachers and parents communicate the importance of studying hard and getting good grades, but rarely discuss the purpose of academic achievement. Damon emphasizes that too often students focus only on short-term goals and don’t explore the big, long-term picture of what they want to do in life. These interview questions that Damon (2008, p. 135) has used in his research are good springboards for getting individuals to reflect on their purpose:
• What’s most important to you in your life?
• Why do you care about those things?
• Do you have any long-term goals?
• Why are these goals important to you?
• What does it mean to have a good life?
• What does it mean to be a good person?
• If you were looking back on your life now, how would you like to be remembered?
 A recent study found that discussing such questions involving their values and life goals improved college students’ goal direction (Bundick, 2011).


As you explore the type of work you are likely to enjoy and in which you can succeed, it is important to be knowledgeable about different fields and companies. Occupations may have many job openings one year but few in another year as economic conditions change. Thus, it is critical to keep up with the occupational outlook in various fields. An excellent source for doing this is the U.S. government’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is revised every two years.
According to the 2012–2013 handbook, service industries, especially health services, professional and business services, and education, are projected to account for the greatest numbers of new jobs in the next decade (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012). Projected job growth varies widely by educational requirements. Jobs that require a college degree are expected to grow the fastest. Most of the highest-paying occupations require a college degree.


The percentage of full-time U.S. college students who also held jobs increased from 34 percent in 1970 to 47 per cent in 2008 (down from a peak of 52 percent in 2000) (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). In this recent survey, 81 percent of part-time U.S. college students were employed.
Working can help offset some of the costs of schooling, but working also can restrict students’ opportunities to learn. For those who identified themselves primarily as students, one national study found that as the number of hours worked per week increased, their grades suffered (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002) (see Figure 13.10). Thus, college students need to carefully examine whether the number of hours they work is having a negative impact on their college success.
Of course, jobs also can contribute to your education. More than 1,000 colleges in the United States offer cooperative (co-op) programs, which are paid apprenticeships in a field that you are interested in pursuing. (You may not be permitted to participate in a co-op program until your junior year.) Other useful opportunities for working while going to college include internships and parttime or summer jobs relevant to your field of study. Participating in these work experiences can help you land the job you want after you graduate.

FIGURE 13.10


Unemployment rates in the United States have remained high in recent years, and global unemployment is increasing. Unemployment produces stress regardless of whether the job loss is temporary, cyclical, or permanent (Lundin, Backhans, & Hemmingsson, 2012; Romans, Cohen, & Forte, 2011). Economic problems that led to the recession at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century produced unusually high unemployment rates. Researchers have found that unemployment is related to physical problems (such as heart attack and stroke), mental problems (such as depression and anxiety), marital difficulties, and homicide (Backhans & Hemmingsson, 2012; Freyer-Adam & others, 2011). A 15-year longitudinal study of more than 24,000 adults found that life satisfaction dropped considerably following unemployment and increased after becoming reemployed but did not completely return to the life satisfaction level previous to being unemployed (Lucas & others, 2004). A recent research review concluded that unemployment was associated with an increased mortality risk for individuals in the early and middle stages of their careers, but the increase was less pronounced for those who became unemployed late in their careers (Roelfs & others, 2011).
Stress caused by unemployment comes not only from a loss of income and the resulting financial hardships but also from decreased self-esteem (Howe & others, 2012). Individuals who cope best with unemployment have financial resources to rely on, often savings or the earnings of other family members. The support of understanding, adaptable family members also helps individuals cope with unemployment. Job counseling and self-help groups can provide emotional support during the job search as well as practical advice on finding job opportunities, writing résumés, and answering questions in job interviews.


Dual-earner couples may face special challenges finding a balance between work and family life (Demorouti, 2012; Moen, 2009b). If both partners are working, who cleans up the house or calls the repairman or takes care of the other endless details involved in maintaining a home? If the couple has children, who is responsible for making sure that the children get to school or to piano practice on time, who writes the notes to approve field trips or meets the teacher or makes the dental appointments?
Although single-earner married families still make up a sizeable minority of families, the proportion of two-earner couples has increased considerably in recent decades. As more U.S. women took jobs outside the home, the division of responsibility for work and family changed in three ways: (1) U.S. husbands are taking increased responsibility for maintaining the home; (2) U.S. women are taking increased responsibility for breadwinning; (3) U.S. men are showing greater interest in their families and parenting.
Many jobs have been designed for single earners, usually male breadwinners, without regard to family responsibilities or the realities of people’s lives. Consequently, many dual-earner couples engage in a range of adaptive strategies to coordinate their work and manage the family side of the work-family equation (Moen, 2009b). Researchers have found that even though couples may strive for gender equality in dual-earner families, gender inequalities persist (Cunningham, 2009). For example, women still do not earn as much as men in the same jobs, and this inequity means that gender divisions in how much time each partner spends in paid work, homemaking, and caring for children continue. Thus, dual-earner career decisions often are made in favor of men’s greater earning power, with women spending more time than men taking care of the home and caring for children (Moen, 2009b).


The workplace is becoming increasingly diverse (Hebl & Avery, 2013). Whereas at one time few women were employed outside the home, in developed countries women have increasingly entered the labor force. A recent projection indicates that women’s share of the U.S. labor force will increase faster than men’s share through 2020 (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012). In the United States, more than onefourth of today’s lawyers, physicians, computer scientists, and chemists are women.
Ethnic diversity also is increasing in the workplace in every developed country except France. In the United States, between 1980 and 2004 the percentage of Latinos and Asian Americans more than doubled in the workplace, a trend that is continuing (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012). Latinos are projected to constitute a larger percentage of the labor force than African Americans by 2020, growing from 13 percent in 2006 to 18.6 percent in 2020 (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012). The increasing diversity in the workplace requires a sensitivity to cultural differences and an appreciation of the cultural values that workers bring to a job (Hebl & Avery, 2013).
Despite the increasing diversity in the workplace, women and ethnic minorities experience difficulty in breaking through the glass ceiling that prevents them from being promoted to higher rungs on the corporate ladder. This invisible barrier to career advancement prevents women and ethnic minorities from holding managerial or executive jobs regardless of their accomplishments and merits (Schueller-Weidekamm & Kautzky-Willer, 2012).