Term Paper: Emotion Development in Early Adulthood

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[. . .] In order to further understand the roles that intimacy and love play in the emotional development of young adults, it is important to examine behaviors among this age group that contribute to the development of relationships. The perceptions and values that individuals have of intimacy, and their intimate partners, are important for the comprehension of the relationship between intimacy and development.

Research has indicated that ideologies of femininity and romantic love are influential in women's romantic relationships and their leisure time (Herridge et al., 2003). Women tend to emphasize leisure time spent with their partners, which results in satisfying couple leisure for women, but also leads to conflicts in leisure with friends and family. Moreover, leisure has the ability to promote meaningful intimate relationships, but involvements in romantic relationships main have a constraining effect on women's leisure. This would especially have implications for the development that occurs during early adulthood, since individuals struggle with the conflict of intimacy vs. isolation.

The multifaceted concept of intimacy may mean different things to different individuals, especially for people from different cultural backgrounds (Hook et al., 2003). Other cultures may not interpret intimacy as having the same implications or meaning the same thing as it is in the Western world (Hook et al., 2003). A cross-cultural gender analysis of the romantic behaviors of university students was conducted by Quiles (2003). This researcher discovered that "respondents in Puerto Rico showed less discrepancy among their rankings of romantic behaviors, whereas the United States respondents exhibited more discrepancy among their rankings (Quiles, 2003)." It was concluded that the degrees of similarity and difference found between the respondents in Puerto Rico and the United States in specific romantic acts was due to the influences of cultural norms prescribed by each national group (Quiles, 2003).

However, some universal similarities were found. For instance, items that males from both cultures endorsed as most romantic were often characterized by physical aspects, while items that were endorsed by females of both cultures as most romantic were more emotionally symbolic in nature (Quiles, 2003). These gender differences may add to the conflicts experienced by young adults as the attempt to establish intimate relationships and further their emotional development.

Mate selection

The action of mate selection is an integral part of early adulthood. Emotional development is furthered through the highs and lows associated with finding that special someone. There are theories of mate selection that attempt to explain the psychological and environmental bases for picking one partner over another.

The psychoanalytic theory of mate selection entails that individuals choose intimate and romantic partners that have similar qualities to their opposite-sex parents (Geher, 2000). Geher (2000) explains that this concept is both an actual phenomenon that guides the choices individuals make regarding potential partners, as well as a perceived phenomenon concerning individuals' conceptualizations of their partners and parents. This researcher discovered that for four out of eight personality variables, individuals' opposite-sex parents scored similarly to their partners, and individuals tended to perceive their partners as similar to their parents across all variables. Furthermore, satisfaction in relationships was significantly associated to the degree to which individuals perceive their partners and parents as similar (Geher, 2000). These findings could lead to further investigation of whether the phenomena exhibited is due to innate or environmental factors.

Another mate-selection model, entitled the Pair Attraction Inventory, is based upon six basic types of unconscious mate choices (Kellerman, 1977). These mate choices are presented as bipolar categories that are arranged on a two-dimensional plane, and the dimensions are labelled as Love - Anger and Strength - Weakness (Kellerman, 1977). The arrangement of the categories takes on a circular ordering, in which categories that exist closer to each other are more similar, and thus, less conflicting (Kellerman, 1977). Conflict increases as categories that are further removed from each other combine, and the most conflict occurs with the combination of opposites (Kellerman, 1977). There are six basic patterns, but at least 28 possible paired combinations, and the best survival possibilities for partnerships are presented by combinations that have the least conflict (Kellerman, 1977).

Another possible factor in mate selection is self-esteem. Schwarwald et al. (1979) explored whether self-esteem as a personality factor is influential in young adults' expectations in the choice of a partner, and hypothesized that expectations for a realistic prospective partner would be correlated to self-esteem. The findings of the study indicated that the group with higher self-esteem believed that their partners would be of higher social desirability than the group with low self-esteem, and that this effect was mostly due to the physical-self component of self-esteem. This holds implications for young adults, whose self-esteem may be linked to their experiences of intimacy vs. isolation, and isolation may be perpetuated by low self-esteem, which is then perpetuated by isolation. It all may result in an endless cycle that inhibits emotional development at this stage.

Emotional development and lifestyle choices and changes

Early adulthood is a period where identities become more solidified through intimate relationships. It marks the stage where important choices and changes take place, such as the choice to marry, remain single, or come out as homosexual. All of these choices contribute to the emotional development of this stage. Furthermore, choices in early adulthood may set the stage for changes later in life that may result in a 'mid-life crisis'. A 'mid-life crisis' involves questioning the decisions that one has made over the years, the worth and validity of goals, and the adequacy of one's life situation (Carver & Scheier, 1996). This type of crises may be due in part to the enormous changes that are experienced during adulthood as well as cultural norms regarding the timing of life events (Sprecher, 2002). Overall, experiences of intimacy and love are crucial components for emotional development during early adulthood, and successful development at this stage sets the stage for future development throughout adulthood and old age.


Carver, C. & Scheier, M. (1996). Perspectives on Personality: Third Edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Geher, G. (2000). Perceived and actual characteristics of parents and partners: A test of a Freudian model of mate selection. Current Psychology, 19(3), 194-214.

Herridge, K., Shaw, S., Mannell, R. (2003). An exploration of women's leisure within heterosexual romantic relationships. Journal of Leisure Research, 35(3), 274-292.

Hook, M., Gerstein, L., Detterich, L., Gridley, B. (2003). How close are we? Measuring intimacy and examining gender differences. Journal of Counseling and Development, 81(4), 462-473.

Kellerman, H. (1977). Shostrom's mate selection model, the pair attraction inventory, and the emotion profile index. The Journal of Psychology, 95, 37-43.

Quiles, J. (2003). Romantic behaviors of university students: A cross-cultural and gender analysis in Puerto Rico and the United… [END OF PREVIEW]

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