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Young Adulthood in Developmental Psychology


I happened to meet 17 year old Ryan at one the sessions in his school. To my greeting him, he responded warmly by wishing me back and taking his seat.

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I: Shall we start by my asking this: What are your hobbies?

Ryan: Football. I spend a lot of time playing for my school. Then I go to an Old Folks’


I: Tell me about football first.

Ryan: I am the captain of the team (beaming). We have won frequently and I am mad about it.

I: Did the school win all the games under your captaincy?

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Ryan: Oh, no! We lost the last tournament in Wales. It was a last minute goal at sudden death which gave the game to the other team (looking upset at the memory).

I: So now what are your plans?

Ryan: (Looking brighter). The school has provided a coach of good standard. The boys are training hard for the next game at Aston. This time we are positively going to win (smiling confidently).

I: Tell me about that Old Folks Home. How did you know that?

Ryan: Mother is working at that place in the office. Visiting her occasionally to take her back at late hours helped me to become acquainted with the place and its occupants.

I; Is that all you do?

Ryan: No. I visit the lonely people who live there. They all look forward to seeing me.

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I talk and sing to them and in general keep them happy with games sometimes. Not football, just cards or word building games or something that one of them suggests. I take them for walks through the woods occasionally or on picnics. Many of them would be on wheelchairs and would be transported in a vehicle part of the way.

I: Good for you, Ryan. How are you at studies?

Ryan: Can’t say I am at the top. However my grades are satisfactory. I have promised my mum that my grades are going to be in the distinction category soon. So I have started putting in extra hours.

I: What do you plan to become?

Ryan: A doctor. I have been motivated by my mum and I do want to relieve old people from pain and suffering. My father is bedridden and needs support. Hospital bills are costly but mum manages to keep the home fires burning. I also want to relieve my mother of the stress that she is undergoing now, in being the breadwinner and looking after Daddy.

I: What do you do for him?

Ryan: I spend some quality time with him when he is alone. We take turns to help when grandma is not around. My sister is also studying but she too does her mite.

I; What was he before he reached this position?

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Ryan: He was working in the Police Department. An accident occurred while he was chasing a criminal and he fell 20 feet down a cliff. He became paraplegic then

I: Who are your friends? Do you have many?

Ryan: Being in football has given me many of them. However I do have a small intimate group of 4 of them. They join me in most of my activities and we visit each other frequently.

I; No girlfriends close to you?

Ryan: (Laughs). Ya, I do. Betty. She lives close by to my home.

I: Bye, Ryan. Nice to have met you.

Ryan: Bye!


Erikson, an ‘ego psychologist’, believed that psychological development took place in 8 stages across the lifespan. Each stage is critical and builds upon previous stages. The person is likely to confront a crisis in each stage which he needs to address and resolve (Schlauch, 2007, p. 370). Subsequent stages are influenced by the previous stages. Ryan would fall into the young adulthood stage of Erikson’s eight stages of

Psychosocial development (Erikson, 1963 in Aiken, 1998, p.111). Erikson believed that personality development was a continuous process occurring over the life span. Ryan has developed intimacy with Betty, a different kind with his inner circle of friends and his parents. The old folk at the home are probably in some kind of close relationship with Ryan (Aiken, 1998, p. 111). Isolation is out of the question. Ryan has therefore achieved or overcome the expected crisis in this stage.

Jane Loevinger’s (1976, in Aiken, 1998, p.112) stage theory of ego development is based on Erikson’s stages of theory and Lawrence Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development. The ego is the main organizer of personality and integrates morals, values, goals and cognition (p.112). Of the 8 stages of ego development, six are in the adult stage. Ryan can be described as conformist by Loevinger’s stages of ego development (Aiken, 1998, p. 112). He is obedient to his parents, his teachers and the old folk. His norms and goals are fairly definite. The desire to win his football games and in the future become a doctor exhibits a conscientious personality (Aiken, 1998, p.113). He respects individuality as he is very impressed by his mother. The features of developing ego are evident in his nature. His character is developing had his interpersonal relationship with his parents, friends and the old folk is admirable. The conscious preoccupations of his football and his ambition are the most important of his thoughts (p.113). Ryan is on a correct path of personality development and his cognitive style is good.


Transition theorists believe that psychological needs cannot be satisfied always and need to be renegotiated frequently. Ryan’s psychological needs are the control over his life which he has now, his enthusiasm for football, studies and his ambition, commitments to his parents, teachers and the old folk, his feeling that he matters a lot to them and his values in life. He may change or rethink on some of his needs at times and change his attitudes. It is these transitions which contribute to his personality development

Levinson’s theory is that psychological development in adulthood has discrete stages and inter-stage transitions (1978, in Aiken, 1998, p.114). He has defined 4 stages lasting 6-8 years and 5 transitions of 4-5 years each for adult development. Ryan belongs to the early adult transition stage of Levinson as this stage includes those of between 17 and 22 years of age (Aiken, 1998, p.114). He will be ending his adolescent life structure and laying a foundation for entering the adult world which is the goal of this stage according to Levinson. Ryan would be having early adulthood dreams which define his aspirations to become a doctor and the breadwinner of his family and allow his parents especially the mother to have a rest.

Where the stage theory concentrates on psychology within a person, the concept of position shows a person in relationship with his surroundings too (Schlauch, 2007, p. 372). Ryan like all people would be attracted to environments which cater to his dreams

and fit his personality (Aiken, 1998, p.115). He would be moving into the area of his University education where probably a city exists. His personality is suited to a populous area as he is not shy of encounters and his ambitions require him to move in future. Choice of living area and lifestyle permit greater stability of personality.

The script theory says that people try to follow a sense of continuity or order in the important environment scenes of their life (Aiken, 1998, p.115). This sense of organization is present in Ryan’s life now but he is still a young adult. His major decisions would be forthcoming later on when he is an adult. The meaningful events in Ryan’s life would be anticipated, responded to, controlled and created as he moves on to becoming an adult. Ryan’s personality has been influenced by his younger day perceptions. Seeing his father becoming ill, his mother’s stressful life, her attempt to make both ends meet and looking after all the members as best as she could, have probably kindled decisions and ambitions that his life should achieve (Aiken, 1998, p. 115). This influence of the past on the future is termed the life script.

McAdam’s life story model of identity formation is similar to the life script theory (p.115). A sense of identity is derived by adults by drawing on and modifying their life stories in accordance with the changes in themselves and environment. Ryan’s life story is a narrative with a beginning, a middle and an anticipated ending. The narrative tone could be pessimism or optimism. Ryan’s life story is optimistic though his past has given him stresses. It would probably be one that is coherent, credible and open to new possibilities and be termed successful.

Most instruments classify people according to traits. A trait is a cognitive affective or psychomotor characteristic which may be found in different proportions in a person (Aiken, 1998, p.117). A type is a larger dimension of personality with a complex combination if traits.

Among the four major personality types of integrated, armored defended, passive-dependent, and unintegrated, Ryan would be an integrated personality. Functioning well, he has a complex inner life with intact cognitive abilities and ego and he is a focused person too (Aiken, 1998,p. 117).

Three psychologists believe in the trait factor: Gordon Allport, Raymond

Cattell, and Hans Eysenck. Cattell’s multifactor theory is the most comprehensive of the models of personality while Eysenck’s theory is the most parsimonious (Aiken, 1998, p.117). Cattell describes personality in 16 traits while Eysenck has 3 super traits of extroversion-introversion, emotional stability-instability and psychoticism. Ryan can be described as an extrovert with emotional stability.

The five factor model lies between Cattell’s and Eysenck’s models. Ryan could be described as high scoring on the extravert, open to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness and low scoring on the neuroticism factor. This five factor model is also known as the Big Five model of personality (Aiken, 1998, p.118).


In spite of the various theories mentioned, it has been found that personality changes in adulthood are possible. However stability and continuity provide the usual picture. Rarely reorganization and extensive changes can occur. Ryan has developed a good personality already. However the possibility of reorganization and changes are possible in the event of untoward incidents.


  1. Aiken, L.R. 1998. “Personality Development and Disorders” Chapter 5 in “Human development in Adulthood” in the Plenum Series in Adult Development and Aging” Ed. by Jack Demick, Pub by Springer New York
  2. Schlauch, C.R. 2007. “Introducing the Concepts of “Positions,” “Space,” and “Worlds”: Seeing Human Being and Becoming—and Religion—in New Ways” Pastoral Psychology, Vol. 55, Pg 367-390

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