Lay Theories and Self-Perceptions of Maturity in Young Adulthood
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There is concern that maturity is becoming more and more of an elusive goal for contemporary young adults. Cultural definitions of maturity often emphasize timely achievement of traditional adult goals such as buying a house, launching a successful career, and starting a family. Changing economic and social conditions as well as recent financial crises, however, place these goals increasingly out of reach for many young adults. Another prominent cultural definition of maturity exists, however, one focused on the possession and development of character traits such as wisdom, responsibility, and prosociality. This character-based definition may provide an alternative basis for young adults to ground their sense of maturity when the more traditional adult goals are unattainable. The availability of both achievement-based and character-based definitions raises the question of how people define maturity. In this dissertation, I seek to explore young adults’ lay theories of what it means to be mature in terms of personality, cognitive style, formative experiences, and phenomenology (Study 1). Building on these findings, I explore whether young adults apply these same theories to their own self-perceptions of maturity (Study 2). Next, using data from a nationally-representative, longitudinal study, I test whether some of the earlier explored indicators of self-perceived maturity are unique to young adults as well as what downstream consequences self-perceptions of maturity in young adulthood have for well-being in midlife (Study 3). Next, I study self-perceptions of maturity in the context of facing the on-going hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic (Study 4) and finally apply these findings in an intervention, attempting to induce greater feelings of maturity in participants as they go through the pandemic (Study 5). My findings show that young adults endorse both achievement-based and character-based conceptualizations of maturity; however, the character-based definition may provide the flexibility that is needed to ground one’s sense of maturity even when traditional adult goals are unattainable. These findings provide important insights, directions for future research, and implications for supporting young adults’ development of a mature identity as they navigate the challenges of modern adulthood.
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Christopher Lok (2022). Lay Theories and Self-Perceptions of Maturity in Young Adulthood. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/18644