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Middle Adulthood Developmental Psychology

Learn about middle adulthood development and careers in this area

middle adulthood development

The ubiquitous term "midlife crisis" that many in society take for granted, doesn't exist, according to many developmental psychology researchers, and in fact, most people during middle adulthood are satisfied and pleased with their lives. Developmentalists categorize this life stage as people between ages 35 to 64, and they maintain that healthy and unhealthy lifestyles and attitudes are the main concerns for those in this age group.

Physical Changes

For those in middle adulthood, aging is inevitable. By age 64, visible signs are apparent, such as gray and thinning hair, wrinkles, the need for reading and bifocal eyeglasses, and some hearing loss. Internally, changes are taking place as well, with some decline in the major organs, including the lungs, heart and digestive system; additionally women undergo menopause sometime between the ages of 42 and 51. Developmentalists call these forms of aging primary, meaning that the changes are inevitable and happen to everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, culture or socioeconomic class.

Secondary aging, however, is the result of unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, drug use, unhealthy eating, alcohol abuse, obesity and lack of exercise. Death rates for this age group remain relatively low, although the two major illnesses that do affect the health and mortality of this age group are heart disease and cancer: analysis from a 2006 report by the nonprofit group Life Insurance Foundation for Education finds that the leading causes of death for males ages 45-65 is heart disease, followed by cancer. For females ages 35-64, the leading cause of death is cancer.

Researchers have proven, however, that exercise alone reduces the risk of almost every serious illness in middle adulthood - especially heart disease and cancer. Add healthy eating and the elimination of tobacco and alcohol use to middle-age lifestyles, and major illnesses can literally be halted altogether. And exercise slows many primary aging changes too, such as the physiological changes taking place within the vital organs.

Developmentalists also study individuals' vitality, or "joy of living" during the middle adult years as they have found high correlations between positive, upbeat attitudes and physical and mental health. These researchers have found that negativity caused by stress or conditions such as depression (see Depression) or anxiety (see Anxiety) can even eventually lead to chronic physical conditions in otherwise healthy bodies.

Psychology

Cognitive Changes

Until the middle of the 20th century, it was thought that intelligence peaked in adolescence and then began to decline, and continued its descent over the remainder of a person's life. However, psychological researchers, particularly the work of K. Warner Schaie and his 1956 study called the Seattle Longitudinal Study, have proven that hypothesis incorrect, proving that some aspects of intelligence, such as vocabulary skills, actually increase until about age 60. Schaie's research project studied the aging and cognition of individuals from birth through the entire life span.

Two researchers during the 1960s, Raymond Cattell and John Horn, identified two categories of intelligence - crystallized and fluid intelligence. These researchers argued that fluid intelligence, or the ability to process new concepts and facts quickly and creatively, including abstract reasoning problems, independent of previous education or learning, peaks in adolescence and then starts a gradual decline between the ages of 30 and 40.

On the other hand, crystallized intelligence, or the stored knowledge gained from experience and education, becomes higher as people age. Facts like mathematical or chemical formulas, vocabulary size and history dates are all examples of crystallized intelligence.

And researcher James Flynn has shown that each new generation of IQ test takers scores higher than previous generations. Researchers point to better education, nutrition and health as contributing factors.

Although younger generations score higher on IQ tests than older generations, that doesn't mean that the intellectual abilities of adults diminish. To the contrary, middle adulthood is a time when many people have acquired a particular vocational expertise that makes them uniquely more qualified and capable than younger adults. This means that many in midlife are at the height of their careers, which also means increased job responsibilities. Career pressures combined with other changes taking place in their lives requires the ability to adequately juggle personal and professional responsibilities.

Those in this age group typically need to simultaneously manage a variety of family issues including children at various ages of development, aging, ill parents and financial concerns and worries. But by middle age, many individuals are better at handling the stresses of life. Through experience, flexible thinking, higher levels of intuition and adaptability, and the support of friendships that have been nurtured over the years, this age group typically conquers these challenges artfully and with expertise. And by adequately managing major life stressors, many individuals gain a sense of empowerment and confidence.

However, those who do struggle with middle-age stressors generally find that such stressors can negatively impact their overall health - especially as they get older and enter older adulthood. Alcoholism and overeating are examples of negative approaches to problem-solving, that are particularly relevant to this age group. In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity prevalence for men and women aged 50-59 years increased to 31.7% and 30.2%, respectively from 19.1% for men and women aged 18-29 years. The CDC also reports that 30% of current consumers of alcohol drink excessively.

Emotional Changes

Just about everyone has heard of the "midlife" crisis. Supposedly this is a time of great emotional upheaval, anxiety, and drastic changes in behavior. But professionals specializing in developmental psychology characterize this time period quite differently, and research supporting the evidence of midlife crisis simply doesn't exist.

Most middle-aged individuals say that they are in meaningful intimate relationships, including those who have been married for several years. For those who divorce and remarry, many report satisfying intimacy although most report that remarriage brings a new set of challenges.

And developmentalists have found that most people in this age group have less problems with their children and also better relationships with their own parents.

What many consider a "crisis" might stem from a personality trait that makes coping with life's stresses difficult. Developmentalists study how personality affects people's lives, and try and identify the traits that lead to healthy or unhealthy behaviors and attitudes.

If studying personality and how it affects behavior sounds intriguing, or if you find how people grow and change in their middle adulthood years fascinating, you should consider a career in developmental psychology. Academic careers that also include research usually require either a master's degree or PhD in psychology.

Also, learn more about the psychology career licensing processes and what the requirements for licensure are: Psychology Career Licensure.

Developmental Psychology Schools & Colleges
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            • 95% alumni satisfaction rate.
            • Currently holds more than 500 professional alliances, including 19 of the top Fortune 100 companies.
            • Courses are taught by expert faculty, with 86% of professors possessing a doctoral degree.
            • Offers credit for prior experience and learning, as well as scholarships, accelerated programs, and several other ways to help reduce tuition costs.
            • Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association (NCA).
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            South University , West Palm Beach
            • Began in 1899 as Draughon’s Practical Business College.
            • Features campuses that are heavily engaged in their respective communities, providing professional service from students and faculty.
            • Offers financial aid, scholarships, and counseling for both active and post-duty military students.
            • Has 15 campuses across the United States, as well as 4 art institutes in North Carolina and Texas.
            • Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
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            • Ranked 25th among the Best National Universities in 2015 by U.S. News & World Report.
            • One of the world’s leading private research universities.
            • Its student-faculty ratio is 9:1, and 56.8% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
            • Has an average freshman retention rate, an indicator of student satisfaction, of 96.8 percent.
            • Dedicated to a strong tradition of integrating liberal and professional education since 1880.
            • Its faculty includes National Academy members, Nobel Laureates, MacArthur Fellows, and more.
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            Argosy University , Online (campus option available)
            • Designated as a 2015 Military Friendly® School by Victory Media, publishers of G.I. Jobs®.
            • Each program is designed to instill the knowledge, ethical values, and interpersonal skills of professional practice and to foster values of social responsibility.
            • Offers several flexible learning options, including a blended format that combines campus and online learning.
            • Several scholarship opportunities are available for students who qualify.
            • Features a competency-based MBA program that allows students to test out of subjects based on prior professional experience.
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            • Several institutional scholarship opportunities are available to students who qualify.
            • Features several learning model options, including online, residency, and hybrid options.
            • Offers graduate degree programs in organizational leadership, mind-body medicine, psychology and human science.
            • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
            • Three teaching locations in Seattle, Washington and Houston, Texas, with the university headquarters located in San Francisco, California.
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            • Ranked among top Regional Universities in the South by U.S. News and World Report in 2015.
            • Ranked 37th among the Best Colleges for Veterans by U.S. News and World Report in 2015.
            • Stands as the largest private, nonprofit university in the nation with 100,000+ students.
            • Offers over 230 programs online, from the certificate to the doctoral level.
            • Has a student-faculty ratio of 25:1, and 42.3% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
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            University of Phoenix , Online (campus option available)
            • Provides career services that help students find careers that match their interests and map out a personalized career plan.
            • Offers mentorships and networking opportunities through an Alumni Association of 800,000+ graduates.
            • Has flexible start dates and class schedules.
            • Offers special military rates and special advisors who have a military background.
            • Gives students the chance to earn credits for applicable military training and education.
            • Locations nationwide and online options.
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            Brenau University , Gainesville

            • Ranked among the 2015 Best Regional Universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report.
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            • Challenging students to live extraordinary lives of personal and professional fulfillment since 1878.
            • Offers programs in business, communication, education, humanities, fine arts, health sciences, and graduate studies.
            • Provides on-campus housing options and study abroad programs for students.
            • Campus features several academic centers for students, including The Writing Center and the Study Place for Achievement (SPA).

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            • Has students attend one four-week class at a time and take their final exam before moving on to their next class.
            • Offers 24/7 online tech support, with a typical response time of 4 hours or less.
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            • Provides job placement assistance to all its students and alumni.
            • Researches trends for growing fields to tailor a more effective curriculum.
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            Regent University prepares students with the knowledge to excel and the faith to live with purpose. Our 20,000 alumni, from more than 110 countries, are changing the world as accomplished professionals. Named a top-15 school nationally for online bachelor's programs (U.S. News & World Report, 2015), Regent is among the most affordable undergraduate Christian colleges (CCCU 2015). Fully accredited, challenging programs are available online and on campus. New classes begin every eight weeks.

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