Psychology: Emerging Adulthood


Emerging adulthood can be described as that period of human development occurring between the adolescence stage and the stage of adulthood. According to Jeffrey Arnett; a researcher who has conducted a major study on emerging adulthood refers to this stage is when young adults leave adolescence dependency but have not undergone full development that would enable them to endure adulthood responsibilities. Therefore, emerging adulthood becomes an appropriate time for young adults to explore various directions of life including worldviews and love. This stage occurs within the range of eighteen and twenty-five years although some people tend to extend it to twenty-seven years. Focus on emerging adulthood has gained popularity lately due to the increase of industrial societies where young adults are engaged in other social encounters that delay them from entering adulthood. Some of them include extensive education, delay to parenthood as well as marriage, and exploration of job opportunities. Emerging adulthood can be defined in terms of young adults’ cognitive, psychological, humanistic as well as behavioral experiences. (Jeffrey, 2004)

Cognitive Approach of Emerging Adulthood

The cognitive approach refers to the manner and direction of thinking of human beings and in this case, young adults are found to possess thinking and reasoning capacities different from those of adolescents as well as adults. Having in mind that this is the time that young people in this stage engage themselves in life explorations but they are not mature enough to make adulthood decisions, it thereby occurs that most of their thoughts are self-directed. More so, their thoughts are characterized by high levels of instability since they are mostly undecided on the best area to settle in provided with a wide range of possibilities. They tend to shift from one decision to another as they weigh where they would fit best. The cognitive development of emerging adults is mostly experienced through changes that occur in worldviews. They are found to get into this stage of development with worldviews they had acquired during their previous stage of adolescence. However, their way of thinking is altered by the level and type of education as well as worldviews they get exposed to in educational institutions.

What follows is that emerging adults critically examine and question views that they are presented with considering the potential effectiveness of each. Their way of thinking opens to a variety of views that are then put under critical examination. Eventually, emerging adults tend to embrace a completely different worldview compared to what they possessed during adolescence. However, after embracing the new worldview, emerging adults do not get satisfied but leave opportunities open in order to allow further modifications which are directed to the improvement of their worldview. During this time, their way of thinking undergoes considerable developments as they view things in a more mature and realistic manner. College students are better placed when considering exposure to a wide variety of worldviews than non-college-going young people. Therefore, a different direction of cognitive development is experienced where decisions have to be made concerning a variety of values as well as beliefs present in their societies. This is primarily because they need to get into adulthood with firm values on which they would base their adult life, especially parenthood. Therefore, existing beliefs acquired from parents are examined where they divert from those that they feel uncomfortable with and take in better ones. (Jeffrey, 2004)

Emerging adulthood is also the time when young people change religious beliefs until they get one with which they can comfortably identify. The final decision is thereby an expression of independent reflections which have been thought about for some time. Concerning work, emerging adults shift from opportunities with less cognitive challenges to those that involve extensive thinking as they demand more refined skills. They try to examine different work opportunities where they consider potential implications to their future lives which require more focused thinking capacities. As a result, they tend to change careers chosen during adolescence in cases where they do not match with expected identities. This clearly portrays the level of instability experienced in cognitive development occurring during the stage of emerging adulthood. However, though unstable life of emerging adults is characterized by a higher level of logical reasoning than that experienced by adolescents. (Army, 2007)

Behaviorism in Emerging Adulthood

(Bornstein, 2003) argues that, the mode of the behavior portrayed by emerging adults is quite distinct as it borrows from both adulthoods as well as adolescence. However, emerging adults experience more freedom than adolescents, which enables them to make various concrete decisions concerning their lives. The manner in which emerging adults behave is depicted in the main areas of involvement among them being love. Emerging adults are found to show more seriousness to dating where they treat their partners with more intimacy. This is basically grounded in the identity they acquire during their explorations. Love life experienced during this stage allows emerging adults to interact with a variety of people from which they determine the most influential qualities of life in both positive as well as negative ways. This determination enables them to recognize the different ways through which people conduct evaluations in order to get a better understanding of whom they are.

As a result, emerging adults make the necessary changes to their behavior which fits the kind of picture they would want to portray to the world especially to love partners. Emerging adults’ are found to explore their sexuality more during this stage of development. This leads to their involvement in casual sex practices sometimes with people that they are not dating leading to a higher level of susceptibility to STIs. Other sexual explorations take place when young people in this category are seeking life partners where they get involved in premarital sexual practices. This kind of behavior is basically due to freedom acquired by emerging adults since less supervision is carried out on them compared to what happens during adolescence. Therefore, emerging adults get exposed to various health risks due to irresponsible behavior portrayed by the majority. However, it occurs that the rate at which emerging adults engage in practices of casual sex varies with the type of gender. Studies show that young men in this stage have more partners than young ladies in the same stage which results in different behavior patterns between both genders concerning sexuality.

Increased level of alcohol usage is another characteristic behavior that has been identified in emerging adults. Studies show that emerging adulthood is the stage in which young people mostly engage themselves in substance usage among them being alcohol. Twenty-one years have been spotted as the peak of this behavior which is also included in the range of years of emerging adulthood. Emerging adults get involved in substance abuse more because of the realities they get exposed to which is sometimes too much for them to hold. They, therefore, tend to seek refuge in drunkenness in order to hide from those realities. Hardships leading to negative behavior during this crucial stage may include heartbreaks by love partners as well as challenges coming from workplaces. In work experiences, emerging adults become more explorative as they try to unleash their potential in different kinds of opportunities. This is the stage where they travel to distant places away from their families for a long time to either study or work. Also, a large percentage of volunteers in workplaces belong to this category of young people. This is partly because they have fewer responsibilities to take care of as in most cases they only cater for their upkeep. Another reason why emerging adults are mostly involved in volunteer work is their need to explore the kind of tasks and practices occurring in different career opportunities in order to be well equipped in their chosen career or to change to a more promising one. (Bornstein, 2003)

Revision of plans is another characteristic behavior of emerging adults where they change courses taken in colleges after recognizing that they would do better in different courses or due to results from their explorations which make them prefer career changes. Other revisions involve life partners where they share rooms with their partners and after thinking of the kind of future they would have with those partners they revise plans. In most cases, the behavior portrayed in their revised plans is normally more focused than the former plan. A major difference between the behavior of emerging adults and adolescents is that emerging adults are less anxious which is replaced by instability levels that disrupt their living experiences.

Young people in this stage enjoy temporary residents where they live with different friends at a time which enables them to explore various parts of the world and traveling becomes the hobby of many emerging adults. Movements by emerging adults range from cohabitation with their love partners or friends to their parent’s homes, which are interchanged depending on situations or moods they experience during this stage. Emerging adults also behave in a manner that portrays less commitment and/or obligation to others which increases their level of flexibility. However, the kind of instability experienced by emerging adults is taken to be quite healthy as it shapes their adulthood although some negative irresponsible behavior may make emerging adulthood a major turning point in their lives. (Bornstein, 2003)

Humanistic approach to Emerging Adulthood

Emerging adulthood can also be explained in terms of the humanistic situation encountered in this stage. In this case, humanism takes place when emerging adults involve themselves in explorations that eventually lead to extensive reasoning. It also concerns their ability to affirm the level of people’s worth which they get to realize in their interaction with different types of people. Emerging adults also search for the existing morality as well as the truth of their encounters through critical investigations but in a more humanistic manner. The Discovery of knowledge through extensive learning allows emerging adults to reason better than during adolescence. Among the ways in which emerging adults express their humanism is in religion where they tend to analyze the supernatural existence of the divine and it is during this time that some young people become rebellious to the religious practices of their parents and they take up new ones.

They are mostly driven by optimism where they believe that there is a promising future ahead which is preferably better than what is experienced by their parents. Failures in their parents’ lives serve as lessons and they avoid areas that would lead them to similar situations among them being financial instabilities as well as marriage breakups. They apply all their efforts in practices that would enable them to secure good jobs as well as happy lives with their partners. However, some philosophers argue that the kind of optimism held by emerging adults may be a source of future unhappiness rather than happiness since most of those things they yearn for may not be achieved in the future. Therefore, it occurs that humanistic experiences during emerging adulthood result in heterogeneity of young people. This is because some of them succeed while others continue to struggle with life situations. According to Arnett, the society in which emerging adults live should make efforts in order to assist them to choose their careers as well as life partners. (Dan, 2006)

Humanistic Spirituality is yet another characteristic feature of emerging adults where this category of young people associates themselves with a variety of spiritual experiences leading to different religious versions. Diverse spiritual experiences also make emerging adults prefer alternative spiritual ways that are nonreligious through which they seek interpretations of various issues occurring in their lives. Among the various spirituality forms include master narratives about life which are based on existing worldviews assisting later in future predictions. A complex representation of important values of life is found to act as guiding factors to emerging adults as they keep them focused in their undertakings. Anxieties of leading a good future make emerging adults engage in ritual activities in order to be assured that the path they are taking in life is the appropriate one. There are a number of factors that influence humanism occurring in emerging adults including cultural resources that construct the situation of spirituality.

The environment of contemporary culture results in an interpretation of emerging adults’ lives as a journey to be traveled alone where less communal efforts are incorporated. However, these spiritual experiences affect emerging adults’ sociability as well as attitudes towards respect that should be accorded to other people and their values. Humanism also allows emerging adults to be more politically involved which leads to engagement in political participation where they fight for motions supporting their beliefs. This is related to their involvement in citizenship activities since it’s the time they get legally accepted in the age bracket of citizens who can make decisions for their nations through voting. Therefore, emerging adults tend to view politics in a more reasonable manner putting less emphasis on religious traditions explaining political situations. Examples of values that emerging adults identify with include individualism where their thoughts and activities are directed on self rather than others.

This is primarily because of the fact that they hope to get the best out of their lives where they believe to be in possession of all the potential needed to achieve this. Tolerance is another value featured in emerging adults lives’ where they realize they need to endure tough experiences passed through especially in career explorations. This is when they change careers after realizing that what they had opted to venture in does not have promising returns in the future. Also, stressful experiences encountered in their workplaces expect them to portray high levels of endurance in order to adjust to distinct programs practiced in job recruitments as well as other training exercises of chosen careers. It, therefore, occurs that most events are conducted with much subjectivity rather than objectivity due to high levels of self-direction as well as fulfillment associated with emerging adulthood portraying humanism. (Dan, 2006)

Psychoanalysis of Emerging Adulthood

Emerging adulthood can also be defined by the various psychological experiences undergone by this category of young people. It occurs that emerging adults are faced with trying situations in the process of coping with life realities in form of struggles in career explorations that take place in workplaces as well as when studying. Emerging adulthood is when most young people further their studies in their areas of specialization at college and university levels. Some areas become overly demanding compared to previous O-level education thereby contributing to psychological difficulties as emerging adults try to achieve set targets. Experiences in relationships with love partners also contribute to psychological hardships especially when one party is rejected by the other. If the emerging adult who has been rejected had already convinced him/herself that the other party was the one he/she would want to settle within marriage, it becomes really hard to cope with rejection which results in psychological hardships.

Another factor affecting the psychology of emerging adults is high expectations of life where existing possibilities make emerging adults become determined in exploitations of their potential. They, therefore, employ much effort in furthering their education but when they find that they do not possess the capacity or potential to achieve what they want, they get depressed. Depression makes emerging adults engage themselves in drug abuse in order to release the stress that comes from the situation. Identity formation during emerging adulthood also affects their psychology where they feel obliged to achieving an identity that would be portrayed more of their good features and success rather than one that portrays failure. However, they do not leave allowances for hindrances that may make them fail to achieve their identities. When emerging adults are faced with these hindrances they get devastated to a point of breaking down as others shift careers in search of preferred identities. Indecisiveness affects emerging adults’ psychology as well where they realize that their age is approaching a different stage when they will have to make independent decisions for themselves as well as their families which makes them worried about whether they would continue changing from one decision to another during adulthood.

Extensive studies have been carried on the psychological experiences underwent by emerging adults who are homeless. It has been found that emerging adults who are homeless suffer mental difficulties when they think of what would become of them when they get to adulthood. The psychological experiences of emerging adults who do not have homes are quite different from that those with homes and enrolled in various educational institutions or who have secured good jobs. The disadvantaged category of emerging adults is normally engaged in more stressful thoughts concerning their future. They face so many barriers to their achievements which are related to the environment in which they live. Part of it is that they do not have opportunities to get a good education which would lead them to promising careers. As a result, emerging adults experience economic as well as social hardships that engage them in psychological hardships. Therefore, this category of emerging adults ends up becoming anti-social as they focus on individual problems leading to dangerous situations like self-injury as well as suicidal behavior due to intense thoughts building up in their disturbed minds. (Jennifer, 2006)


It, therefore, occurs that the stage of emerging adulthood is more demanding compared to the previous adolescence stage. This is when young people get to figure out what would become of them when they become adults. Their main areas of worry include financial stability which makes educational training so essential for them. The need to secure good jobs is also related to the achievement of financial stability where emerging adults hope that their efforts would result in what they perceive as a good future. The manner in which emerging adults view the world is also a major factor that affects their lives where they tend to change from the way they viewed things like adolescents and embrace a more mature worldview. The analysis of emerging adults’ in terms of humanistic, psychological, cognitive, and behavioral experiences shows the need for better preparation of young people so that they are in a position to manage situations that occur during this demanding stage. (Peter, 2004)


Army L. (2007): Methodological studies in critical Youth studies: NYU Press pp 28-32.

Bornstein M. (2003): Positive development across life course: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates pp 56-59.

Dan P. (2006): The redemptive Self: Oxford University press pp 19-25.

Jeffrey J. (2004): The winding road from late teens through the twenties; Journal of Adolescent Research: Oxford University Press pp 45-60.

Jennifer L. (2006): Emerging Adults in America: American Psychological Association pp 72-77.

Peter U. (2004): Cross-Cultural perspectives and applications: Greenwood publishing Group pp 37-40.

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