Changes Charted in Adolescents' Thought Processes

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"Dramatic, extraordinary" changes occur in the thought processes of young people between early and late adolescence, according to a study completed recently by a University of Michigan psychologist.

The study, conducted by Joseph B. Adelson, involved 780 young people, ranging in age from 11 to 18, from the U. S., West Germany, and Great Britain. The research addressed two basic questions: How do youngsters at the onset of adolescence think about social and humanistic issues, and how does this thinking change as they get older?

Interviewers presented the young people with a hypothetical situation in which 1,000 people had left their country to form a new society on an island in the Pacific. Within that framework, the researchers raised many questions about issues of poJitics, social structure, and morality.

They found that cultural differences were evident between those from different countries. Students of the same age and nationality, regardless of their race or sex, showed no significant differences in how they thought about these issues.

But the differences in the thought process between older and younger children were striking, Mr. Adelson reports.

One of the most significant changes, he said, is the shift from thinking almost entirely in the concrete to thinking in the abstract. "It is not until age 15 or 18 that most children can deal with social and humanistic issues in the abstract and know what they are talking about," he said.

For example, at age 10 or 11, few children grasp the concept of a social collectivity, such as "society" or "government." Early adolescents also have a weak conception of human motivation, according to the study, and believe that criminals commit crimes because they are wicked.

Young adolescents see government as a means of suppressing wayward behavior, by harsh means if necessary. As they grow older, they change their views and see laws as benevolent and protective.

The research findings have a message for teachers, Mr. Adelman says, who should be aware of their students' difficulties in abstract reasoning.

"One of the main things we learned," he advises, "is not to assume youngsters at age 11 or 13 are talking about the same things you are. They may use the right words, but on close questioning you find that they have only a vague idea about what the words mean."

The report on the research is entitled The Growth of Thought in Early Adolescent Reasoning.

Vol. 1, Issue 33, Page 3

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