CHAPTER 4 – ADOLESCENCE
- Puberty: the physical changes in a young girl that lead to sexual maturity.
- Adolescence: the psychological changes that occur during puberty; the transition phase between
childhood and adulthood
- Menarche: the beginning of menstruation (the major biological milestone of puberty).
Puberty and Menstruation
- Most girls enter puberty between the ages of 9 and 13; the average age at menarche is 12.
- at around age 10 to 11 girls experience a transformation in their secondary sex characteristics
- Secondary sex characteristics: features of the body related to reproduction but not directly
involved in it. These characteristics include breast development and pubic hair
- During puberty, young women also accumulate body fat through the hips and thighs. Young
women in North American often resent this body fat, because our culture emphasizes slender
Biological Aspects of the Menstrual Cycle:
- The hypothalamus monitors the body’s level of estrogen during the monthly cycle.
o ↓↓ Estrogen → hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland → the pituitary gland produces
follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone.
- Four hormones contribute to the menstrual cycle:
1. Follicle-stimulating hormone acts on the follicles (or egg holders) within the ovaries,
making them produce estrogen and progesterone.
2. Luteinizing hormone: necessary for the development of an ovum (or egg).
3. Estrogen: primarily produced by the ovaries, stimulates the development of the
endometrium, which is the lining of the uterus.
4. Progesterone: also primarily produced by the ovaries, regulates the system.
- ↑↑ Luteinizing hormone → progesterone stops the release of that hormone.
- The two ovaries, which are about the size of walnuts, contain the follicles that hold the ova, or
eggs, and produce estrogen and progesterone.
- Ovulation: on about the 14th day of the menstrual cycle, one of the eggs breaks out of its follicle
→ egg moves from an ovary into a fallopian tube and then into the uterus (the organ in which a
o If egg is fertilized and implanted in the endometrium lining of the uterus, the
endometrium can then serve as a nourishing location for this egg to mature during
o If the egg is not fertilized and implanted, the egg disintegrates on its way out of the
uterus, and the endometrium is shed as menstrual flow.
- Feedback loop: When the level of a particular hormone is too low, a structure in the brain is
signaled, and the chain of events repeats itself, producing more of that hormone. Later on, when
the level of a hormone is too high, a signal to a structure in the brain begins a chain of events that
decreases that hormone.
- * After ovulation the empty follicle matures into a round structure that secretes progesterone and
estrogen. Therefore, the levels of both of these hormones rise. Then the feedback loop operates,
leading to a rapid decrease in the production of both progesterone and estrogen. With such low
levels of these hormones, the endometrium can no longer be maintained. The endometrium is
sloughed off, and it passes out of the vagina as menstrual flow. Low estrogen levels signal the
hypothalamus to begin a new cycle.
- Dysmenorrhea: Menstrual pain: typically refers to painful cramps in the abdomen. It may also
include headache, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and pain in the lower back. - The contractions of the uterus that cause menstrual pain are encouraged by prostaglandins.
- Prostaglandins: substances that the body produces in high concentrations just before
menstruation, and they can cause severe cramps.
- Highly anxious women report more menstrual pain than less anxious women.
- Treatments to reduce menstrual pain: ibuprofen (drug that inhibits the synthesis of
prostaglandins), exercise, a heating pad, muscle relaxation, adequate sleep, and dietary changes.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): is the name given to the cyclical set of symptoms that may
occur a few days before menstruating. The list of symptoms includes headaches, breast soreness,
swelling, nausea, increased sensitivity to pain, allergies, and acne— as well as various
psychological reactions. These psychological reactions typically include depression, irritability,
anxiety, dizziness, and low energy.
- PMS is controversial because researchers do not agree on its definition. Also, no blood test or
other biochemical test can assess whether a woman is experiencing PMS. Also, some experts
claim that virtually all menstruating women experience it. This claim is unfair because it suggests
that all women are at the mercy of biological factors such as their ―raging hormones‖ This belief
encourages the stereotype that women are irrational and overly emotional.
- Culture explanation of PMS: An alternative view argues that PMS is a myth that our culture
created. Example: women in India and China report different symptoms from North American
women. Note: some women do experience certain symptoms more often premenstrually than at
other times in their cycle.
- Much of the research that supports the concept of PMS is actually bias.
- Consider a study: Hardie (1997): asked 83 menstruating women who were university employees
to keep records in a booklet titled Daily Stress & Health Diary. Each day, for 10 weeks, they
recorded their emotional state, stress level, general health, exercise, laughter, crying, menstrual
bleeding, and so forth. At the end of the 10 weeks, the women completed a questionnaire about
women’s health issues. Included in this questionnaire was a crucial item: ―I think I have PMS.‖
To assess PMS, Hardie used an operational definition: A woman’s mood during the premenstrual
phase needs to be more depressed and emotional than during other parts of her menstrual cycle.
RESULTS: Not one of the 83 women met this criterion for two menstrual cycles during the 70-
day study. In addition, the women who believed they had PMS did not have more negative
emotions premenstrually than did the women who reported no PMS. In other words, both groups
actually reported similar cyclic changes.
- Psychological-cultural explanation for PMS: argues that our current culture clearly accepts
PMS as an established fact, even though it cannot be systematically documented.
- Study: Chrisler and colleagues (2006): surveyed female college students and found that they
tended to think that most other women had more severe symptoms than they themselves
experienced. This perception therefore allows women to believe that PMS is a genuine problem
for other women.
- Factors causing premenstrual problems:
1. Hormonal factors: may cause premenstrual problems in a small percentage of women.
2. Psychological factors: anxiety and strong endorsement of traditionally feminine gender
3. Cultural factors: as our culture’s belief that PMS is a well established fact and our
culture’s emphasis on biological explanations
- It’s difficult to talk about coping with or treating PMS when we have no clearcut definition of the
problem and no comprehensive theory about its origins.
- Suggestions: Women should monitor their emotional reactions throughout the menstrual cycle to
determine whether tension or anxiety is just as likely to occur during phases that are not
premenstrual, physicians who believe PMS occurs for all women recommend physical exercise as therapy, avoiding salt, sugar, and caffeine, and some physicians recommend antidepressants
(unnecessary, can cause side effects).
Positive Reactions to the Menstrual Cycle:
- Study: Chrisler and colleagues (1994): administered the Menstrual Joy Questionnaire. Some
women in this study first completed the Menstrual Joy Questionnaire. RESULTS: They typically
rated their level of arousal relatively positively when they later completed a different
questionnaire about menstrual symptoms. Compared to women who had not been initially
encouraged to think about the positive side of menstruation, these women were more likely to
report feelings of well-being and excitement, as well as bursts of energy.
- Research in the United States and Canada confirms that many women have some positive
responses to menstruation, such as increased energy, creativity, and psychological strength. Some
women feel that menstruation reaffirms their positive feelings of being female.
Cultural Attitudes toward Menstruation:
- Contemporary Creek Indians in Oklahoma: do not allow menstruating women to use the same
plates or utensils as other tribe members
- Many similar menstrual practices reflect a belief in female pollution and the devaluation of
- Most European Americans also have negative attitudes toward menstruating women.
- Study: participants were told that they would be working on a problem-solving task with a female
student. At one point, the participants saw this woman open her handbag. By ―mistake‖ either a
hair clip or a rapped tampon fell out of her bag. Later in the session, the real participants were
instructed to evaluate this woman. RESULTS: Both male and female participants rated the
woman as being less competent and less likeable if her handbag had contained a tampon, rather
than a hair clip.
- Eupehmisms: more pleasant ways of saying the same thing.
- In North America, we usually do not speak openly about menstruation. Instead, we enlist
euphemisms. Example: rarely hear the word menstruation on television. An ad referring to ―that
time of the month‖ refers to menstruation.
- Study: Hurtado (2003): for Latina adolescents, 55% of the young women had never talked with
either parent about menstruation. Many of adolescents emphasized the secrecy of disposing of
- In North America, advertisements specifically make women believe that menstruation is a
problem, something secretive and it must be concealed.
Self-concept and Identity during Adolescence
- Identity: a person’s self-rating of personal characteristics in the physical, psychological, and
- 5 components: self-esteem, body image, feminist identity, cultural identity, and transgender
- Self-esteem: a measure of how much you like and value yourself.
- Meta-analysis: provides a statistical method for integrating numerous studies on a single topic.
Researchers first locate all appropriate studies on the topic. Then they perform a statistical
analysis that combines the results from all these studies. The meta-analysis yields a single number
that tells us whether a particular variable has an overall effect.
- Study: 2 Meta-analytic studies on gender comparisons of self-esteem compared 200 gender
comparisons. RESULTS: the average male scores are slightly—but significantly—higher in self-
esteem than the average female scores during late adolescence, for European Americans, and
among lower-class and middle-class participants. In contrast, when these researchers examined
students from upper-class, well-educated families, the gender differences were very small. It’s possible that these families have the resources to encourage their daughters to overcome the
traditional gender roles.
Body Image and Physical Attractiveness:
- 11-year-old girls are more likely than 11-year-old boys to spend time thinking about their
physical appearance. Emphasis on female attractiveness is exaggerated during adolescence.
- Young women constantly receive the message that good looks and physical beauty are the most
important dimension for females.
- Young women are especially likely to receive the message that they must also be slender
especially from the media. Young women who are overweight are the target of numerous
- Some North American young women are so concerned about being slender that they develop life-
threatening eating disorders.
- Black women are less likely to emphasize thinness. Women of color are especially likely to
comment that women who look like themselves are missing from the fashion magazines.
However, Black women often appear—in degrading roles—in hip hop and rap music videos.
- Physical appearance is the strongest predictor of self-worth in adolescent females. For males,
however, athletic competence is a stronger predictor of self-worth. Females feel valued for how
their bodies look. In contrast, males feel valued for how their bodies perform in athletics.
- Girls who participate in athletics can often escape from the dominant images presented to
adolescent females. Young female athletes often have higher self-esteem than young women who