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Puberty and Moral and Cognitive Development

Onset of Puberty

The gap between the onset of puberty and the process of cognitive maturation has widened over the years, which has become the reason for alarm among the scholars in several fields, including psychology and social sciences. This importance of this discrepancy becomes evident once we consider the developmental tendencies associated with both processes. Puberty is associated with increased emotional sensitivity. At the same time, adolescents are known to exhibit stronger emotional responses and less rational thinking before cognitive maturation. Thus, the effect is visibly multiplied in the gap between the two processes. Coupled with the tendency to seek stronger emotions displayed by the individuals reaching puberty, the effect becomes not only destabilizing but potentially hazardous.

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While there is no consensus on the “norm” of the puberty onset, it becomes clear that some external factors are responsible for the acceleration of the process. For instance, a growing body of evidence suggests that at least some instances can be positively linked to obesity (Maron, 2015). If true, such implication creates a new set of reasons to be concerned. First, obesity is among the most widespread health issues of the post-industrial world and continues to increase in scope despite the best efforts to tame it. This means that the puberty gap will also become more common and will continue to widen. Second, obesity is associated with mood disorders, depression, and decreased self-esteem, especially after unsuccessful attempts to overcome it. Combined with the emotional and psychological instability resulting from early puberty onset, the effect may become significant enough to disrupt the social life and possibly increase the possibility of substance abuse or other deviant behaviors.

However, one important point must be considered: since puberty onset changes are triggered by the post-industrial development, can we hope to return it to the previous rates, especially considering there is no “norm” to it, or should we find ways to cope with it, instead?

Moral Development

In my opinion, both theories have common ground and intersect at some points. Personally, I agree with Gilligan’s view. However, that does not mean that Kohlberg’s theory is wrong – instead, I would put it like this: Gilligan’s stages of development include more variables and thus describe the moral development more fully.

Some of the stages are essentially the same in both theories. For instance, the first stage is egocentric in nature, describes the same motivation, and leads to similar decisions. The only difference is the inclusion of the relationship factor. Gilligan’s theory does not exclude the abstract moral principles which serve as a chief factor in the later stages – the third stage, according to her, is founded on the universal truth, which is comparable to the Kohlberg’s post-conventional stage. The universal truth is based on the previous care-based morality but comes to largely the same conclusion as the unified external justice-based principle used by Kohlberg in his studies.

At this point, it is worth mentioning that Gilligan’s initial goal was to address the gender differences overlooked by Kohlberg. However, her theory was backed by a relatively small and unreliable study. Besides, Gilligan’s main premise is the fundamental and predefined difference between males and females, which, in my opinion, is far-fetched. I think that gender differences are to be considered in the developmental studies but as a socially-determined variable rather than an inherent trait (Eagly, 2013). Gilligan’s theory is preferable, but not because it captures the previously unaccounted factor, but rather because it provides a more encompassing picture.

This latter notion gives way to one interesting possibility. Assuming that care-based and justice-based morality is determined socially, is it possible to apply Gilligan’s theory regardless of gender? In other words, will it produce a more meaningful picture when used on an audience it was not designed for?

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Eagly, A. H. (2013). Sex differences in social behavior: A social-role interpretation. Hillsdale, NJ: Psychology Press.

Maron, D. F. (2015). Early puberty: causes and effects.

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