Physical and Cognitive Development

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1.Statement of the problempage 2

2.Aimspage 2

3.Physical developmentpage 3
3.1Physical development during early adulthoodpage 3
3.2Physical development during middle adulthoodpage 3
3.3Physical development during late adulthoodpage 5
4.Cognitive developmentpage 7
4.1Crystallised and fluid intelligencepage 7
4.2Cognitive development during early adulthoodpage 8
4.3Cognitive development during middle adulthoodpage 10
4.4Cognitive development during late adulthoodpage 11
5.The influence of physical and cognitive development
on adulthood page 15
6.Synthesispage 15

7.Bibliographypage 17


Growth and development during adulthood can in some areas continue indefinitely while, in others, decline starts as soon as in early adulthood.

Up until two decades ago, it was commonly believed that the intelligence of people increased until their early twenties, then decreased for the rest of the lifespan. Different reasons have been given for this theory, including the idea that physical and cognitive activities decrease with age.

Recent studies have shown that intelligence is not an obstacle to learning in old age (Tuijnman & van der Kamp 1992:7) Individual differences among people do exist, and older adults, especially if being considered as learners, cannot be treated or viewed as a single group.


This essay will outline the physical and cognitive changes, and the resulting implications, that occur throughout adulthood. Many biological changes occur throughout the lifespan, and I will focus on those changes which affect mental abilities, particularly those that affect adults in the learning environment.

Many frameworks are used when investigating development through the lifespan. For this essay, the divisions as identified Hurlock (1981) will be used: Early adulthood: 18 – 40 years (ends with the appearance of changes that result in the loss of reproductive capacity) Middle adulthood: 40 – 60 years (ends when both physical and psychological decline becomes apparent in the average person) Late adulthood: 60 – death (decline speeds up at this age) These subdivisions are not rigid; they merely indicate the average age at which certain changes occur.


Physical development is directly related to the tasks that one must face during a particular stage. Cognitive development seems to be related to the physical changes that occur to the body and the developmental tasks of each stage.

3.1Physical Development during Early Adulthood

The peak time to learn new motor abilities is between 20 and 30 years of age. Athletic skills that require speed, strength and endurance peak during this stage. The related developmental tasks that are usually faced at this stage include starting a career, selecting a partner and starting a family, establishing a home and social circle. How well these tasks are met usually determines happiness during the rest of adulthood. (Hurlock 1981:271). This is a time for living life to the full, young adults are physically capable and energetic enough to meet the demands that this phase offers.

Physical changes during early adulthood are usually so gradual they might not be noticed. The decline of cardiovascular functioning leads to changes in motor performance. The lifestyle chosen will obviously affect general physical performance. Factors include diet, stress, exercise, smoking and drinking.

Metabolic rate starts to decrease towards the end of early adulthood, often resulting in an increase in weight. Psychological stress affects physical responses that contribute to heart disease, ulcers etc.

3.2Physical Development during Middle Adulthood

After age 25, everyone loses nerve cells. Gradually over time, this results in a reduced ability of nerve transmission, changing response...
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