Chapter 13 – “Adulthood: Psychosocial Development”
Personality Development in Adulthood
o A mixture of genes, experiences, and contexts results in personality,
which includes a person’s unique actions and attitudes
o Few people develop characteristics that are the opposite of their
o Personality can change, usually for the better
People overcome earlier adversity and confusion
Theories of Adult Personality
Erikson and Malsow
o Erikson- Eight steps of development – three after adolescence
“the only thinker who changed our minds about what it means
to live as a person who has arrived at a chronologically mature
position and yet continues to grow, to change, and to develop”
o Erikson stressed that adult stages do not occur in lockstep.
Adults can be in 5 stage- identity versus role confusion
Or can be in any of the three adult stages – intimacy versus
isolation, generativity vs stagnation, and integrity vs despair.
o Erikson saw adulthood as the continuation of identity seeking via
exploration of intimacy and generativity
Identity vs Role Confusion Identity combines values and traditions from
childhood with the current social context. Since
contexts keep evolving , many adults reassess all
four types of identity (sexual/gender,
vocational/work, religious/spiritual, and
Intimacy vs Isolation Adults seek intimacy – a close, reciprocal
connection with another human being. Intimacy is
mutual, not self-absorbed, which means that adults
need to devote time and energy to one another.
This process beings in emerging adulthood and
continues lifelong, Isolation is especially likely
when divorce or death disrupts establish intimate
Generatitivity vs Adults need to care for the next generation, either
Stagnation by raising their own children or by mentoring,
teaching and helping others. Erikson’s first
description of this stage focuses on parenthood, but
later he included other ways to achieve
generativity. Adults extend the legacy of their
culture and their generation with ongoing care,
creativity, and sacrifice.
Integrity Vs Despair Erikson thought that each person’s entire life could be directed toward connecting a personal journey
with the historical and cultural purpose of human
society, the ultimate achievement of integrity.
o Malsow refused to link chronological age and adult development
when he described a hierarchy of needs with five stages achieve in
Completion of each stage allows a person to move ahead
Ex: people who are in Maslow’s third level (love and belonging,
similar to Erikson’s intimacy vs isolation) seek to be loved and
accepted by partners, family members, and friends.
Without affection, people might stay stuck, needing love
but never feeling satisfied that they have enough of it.
Those who experience abundant love are able to move
to the next level, success and esteem.
The Midlife Crisis
o A supposed period of unusual anxiety, radical self re-examination, and
sudden transformation that was once widely associated with middle age
but that actually had more to do with developmental history than with
o No current theorist sets chronological boundaries for specific stages
of adult development
o Middle age, if exists, can being at age 35-50
o Contradicts theory of the midlife crisis, thought to be at time of
anxiety and radical
o Popularized by Gail Sheehy (1976), who called it “the age 40 crucible,”
and by Daniel Levionson (1978) who said men experienced struggles
within the self and with the external world, and that every aspect of
their lives comes into question.
o No large study over the past three decades has found any normative
o How could earlier observes have been so wrong?
Levinson studied just 40 men, all from one cohort. The data
was then analyzed by men who were also middle-aged (not
Sheehy is not a scientist; she summarized Levinson’s research
then supplemented it by interviewing people she chose.
Neither Sheehy nor Levinson used replicating, multimethod,
longitudinal research, now the bedrock of developmental
o Middle-class men in the United States who reached afe 40 in about
1970 were affected by historic, upheavals in their own families.
Many began marriages and careers in the 1950s, expecting
grateful children, wives, employers and coworkers. When they reachd middle age, their wives where in the first
wave of feminism (some called husbands “sexist pigs”) and
their teenages thought their fathers were rigid and irrelevant
(“Don’t trust anyone over 30”).
Their crsis was not caused by chronological age
Most men who reach age 40 do not have a midlife crisis
The Big Five
o Researchers find substantial, even astonishing choherence in
personality throughout life
Example: recent study found that temperament at age 3
predicted gambling problems at age 32
o Longitudinal, cross-sectional, and multicultural research has
identified five clusters of personality traits that appear in every
culture and era, called the Big Five
Openness: imaginative, curious, artistic, creative, open to new
Conscientiousness: organized, deliberate, conforming, self-
Extroversion: outgoing, assertive, active
Agreeableness: kind, helpful, easygoing, generous
Neuroticism: anxious, moody, self-punishing, critical
o Each person’s personality is somewhere between extremely high and
extremely low on each of these five
The low end might be described, in the same order as above,
with these five adjectives: closed, careless, introverted, hard to
please, and placid.
o These fiver clusters affect an adult’s:
Ecological niche 1
Decision to retire
The reaction to retirement.
o Factors linked to the Big Five are:
Education – conscientious people have higher rates of college
Marriage – extroverts are more likely to marry
Divorce (more often for neurotics)
Ecological Niche: the particular lifestyle and social context that adults settle into
because it is compatible with their individual personality needs and interests Fertility (lower for women in recent cohorts who are more
IQ (higher in people who are more open)
Verbal Fluency (again, openness and extroversion)
Political Views (conservatives are less open)
o Anyone might acid in uncharacteristic ways if circumstances are
dramatically altered- perhaps by unexpected divorce, recovery from
addiction, forced emigration, treated depression, a sudden disabling
o Events influence traits, although the specific impact is always affected
by personality. Nature and nurture interact, each affecting the other.
New events sometimes bring out old personality patterns
People might divorce and then remarry someone like the old
partner, or find a new job that reflects their personality rather
than change their personality to fit the job.
o Happiness seems a matter of personality more than circumstances.
Adults who experience things that temporarily make them overjoyed
or depressed often revert to the level of happiness they had before
Personality trumps experience.
Culture, Age, and Context
o People adapt to their culture, expressing personality traits differently.
o Traits that are considered pathological in one place tend to be
modified as people mature within the community.
Every adult experiences crisis Erikson called intimacy versus isolation,
seeking to connect with other people.
Everyone is part of a social convoy, a group of people who “provide a
protective layer of social relation to guide, encourage, and socialize
individuals as they go through life”.
Friends and Acquaintances
o Crucial members of social convoy because they are chosen
o Usually about same age with similar experiences and values
o Friendship & Human Development
Friendships improve with age
Young adults consider a significant minority of their
friendships ambivalent or problematic
By adulthood, most friendships are rated close, few are
ambivalent, and almost none problematic
Friendships help with mental and physical health
Ex: depression, healthy eating, quitting smoking
Provide information, support, social integration, and new
ideas. Consequential strangers: people who are not in a person’s
closest friendship circle but nonetheless have an impact
Neighbors, coworkers, store clerks etc.
May literally be a stranger: someone who gives you
directions or sits next to you etc.
Differ from close friends and family in that they include people
of diverse religions, ethnic groups, ages, and political opinions
that diversity is one of the reason they are
regular acquaintances part of peripheral social network
decreases with age
composition of social network varies by culture
o Family relationships crucial for many adults, especially as they age
o Adult Children and Their Parents
Physical separation does not necessarily weaken family ties
Intergenerational relationships becoming stronger as more