The History of the Concept Adult and Research Regarding Adult Development
- Carol HoareCarol HoareGeorge Washington University, Department of Counseling and Human Development
The history of concepts about the adult and that of research into adult constructs show progression from a simple characterization of growth to a variety of complex constructs that define the terrain. Originally, the term adult encompassed all species and events that had attained full physical maturation, a product connotation. Later, time and events (e.g., marriage, the birth of children) became proxies for adult development. The absence of considerations of adult development was augmented by the fact that, for much of the past, adults could not be seen in long-term individual evolution since lifetimes were not extensive.
In the 73 years of Psychological Abstracts, adults under various headings (e.g., adulthood, middle age) was referenced in a mere .01% of citations. The first mention of “adult” in a journal title was in 1994. Into the 21st century, although the exploration of various adult constructs abounds, the use of single terms (e.g., intelligence, wisdom) to describe multidimensional attributes leads to misunderstanding and reductionism. There is scant cross-construct analysis and, along with its parent discipline of psychology, analysis of adult development remains at the nascent descriptive level.
Looking at the two major constructs of adult personality and intelligence, personality has had the lion’s share of publications. An examination of trends in its analysis reveals that the constructs are defined in various ways, little in the way of socio-contextual appraisal has occurred, and, with respect to the appraisal of intelligence, motivation to perform is ill-examined.