Young Adulthood

More Complex Thinking
As teens progress into young adulthood, they are able to hold and manipulate on their mental "visor" not only single abstractions, but also clusters of abstractions and then systems for organizing abstract thoughts, according to Kurt Fischer, Michael Commons, and others. (See References.) This assists them perhaps most visibly in mathematics and sciences, but applies to thinking about all phenomena, such as ideas, values, and perspectives.

Appreciation for Diverse Views
This added thinking power is described by William Perry and others as a change from the "right/wrong" framework of adolescence to a more "multiplistic" framework, in which young adults can "see" many points of view, value the diversity of people and perspectives, and appreciate that there can be many right answers to a problem. At first, all ideas seem to have equal value, as one embraces the full diversity of peoples and perspectives. Over time, one finds ways to organize this multiplicity, to identify values and viewpoints that work better for oneself, while respecting that other viewpoints may fit better for others. Ultimately, one evolves a more "relativistic" approach and works out ways to commit personally to certain values amidst the diversity.

Mutuality in Relationships
Young adults are better able to consider different points of view at the same time, that is, to hold multiple perspectives on their mental visor. This allows them to form relationships with peers based on observing that they care about the same things and loyalties to institutions based on observing that they share the same values. They can also understand constrctive criticism, appreciating that the other person is intending to be helpful, even if the effect is painful at the moment. Moving from an "instrumental" to a more "socializable" orientation, in Robert Kegan's terms (see References), young adults are more likely to operate from a principle like the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Emotional Regulation
Critical to their safety, young adults acquire a significantly greater capacity for integration of thought and emotion. With the ability to hold the present and the future on their mental visor at the same time, they can weigh immediate rewards against future consequences, putting more effective "brakes" on the emotional intensity and sensation-seeking heightened since puberty.

Risk-taking and Decision-making
With this greater capacity for thinking about future consequences and regulating emotions, young adults have an easier time modulating risk-taking and making decisions about the future, including choices about health, relationships, education, and careers. They can also weigh the impact of their choices on others more effectively, in actions as simple as showing up for appointments on time or as complex as parenting a young child.

The advent of a new developmental skill, such as multiplistic thinking, does not mean that one uses that skill all the time. Rather, it becomes a new option, one that at first can be tapped only with a great deal of support, probably in one particular area, such as an academic subject. Gradually it becomes easier and more familiar and hence used more frequently across a wider range of life experiences. For more information on these gradations, see Developmental Range.

A more sobering caveat is that some people never fully achieve these milestones at all. Although they occur in young adulthood if all goes well, there are by no means automatic, and they can be delayed or severely limited by a number of circumstances, including mental illness; learning disabilities; frequent use of alcohol or other drugs; and abuse, neglect, deprivation, violence, and other traumas. See Individual Differences.

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