Adolescent Psychological Development: Rationality, Morality, and Identity
reviewed by Margaret K. Keiley - 2001
Title: Adolescent Psychological Development: Rationality, Morality, and Identity
Author(s): David Moshman
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Mahwah, NJ
ISBN: 0805828575, Pages: 152, Year: 1999
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In this book, David Moshman presents his own metatheoretical approach to the development of rationality, morality, and identity in adolescence. The overall organization of the book is quite clear. For each of these three domains, Moshman presents the major principles of one of the modernist theories, a few of the post-modern theories, and his own pluralist rational constructivist theory about development within that particular domain. For the domain of rationality he reviews Piaget, for morality, Kohlberg, and for identity, Erikson. In the final two chapters, he reviews the tenets of his theory and discusses the importance of these ideas in the realm of secondary education for adolescents.
One of the major strengths of this book is Moshman’s focus on peer interaction as a major element of development throughout adolescence. In the chapter in which he presents his own ideas about the construction of rationality, he gives an excellent example of a group of older adolescents working together to solve a problem in logic that most adolescents could not solve on their own. In the experiment from which this example was taken, 15 of the 20 groups that worked on the problem solved it correctly, while only 3 of 32 control subjects working alone were able to do the same. To help us understand these findings, Moshman distinguishes symmetric from asymmetric relationships. Symmetric relationships differ in knowledge, authority, and/or power, while symmetric ones do not. In relationships in which individuals have similar levels of knowledge, power, and authority, they are encouraged to reflect on their own perspectives and coordinate several other perspectives. In the example presented, reflection within peer interactions allowed for the co-construction of a rationality in which problem-solving was enhanced. He uses this perspective on peer interaction when discussing the development of rationality and morality, but sadly, it is missing from the discussion of how adolescents develop their identity.
One of the major drawbacks of this book was the lack of information about the development of emotion regulation during adolescence. Given the recent attention and research on the development of emotion and emotion regulation across the life-span, the lack of attention to the emotional as an important domain of development during adolescence was a substantial omission.
Some of the terms that Moshman uses are not clearly defined. For example, in the chapter in which he presents Piaget’s theory of formal operations, he defines rationality as residing in "certain forms of psychological equilibrium" (pg. 10). Without first defining psychological equilibrium, this definition of rationality is not particularly helpful. On the next page, he states that the new equilibrium "derives from having a more sophisticated cognitive structure" or "better [structures]" (pg.11). Without some understanding of the meaning of cognitive structure, the reader is still in the dark. More importantly, however, I felt that in some of his definitions he included phrases that indicated evaluation, yet did not state clearly how the evaluation was conducted or who was the evaluator. For example, what is the meaning of "more sophisticated" or "better" cognitive structures in his definition of equilibrium and who decides that? Moshman is not alone in this practice, but from someone who is an ardent constructivist, his lack of attention to these issues of power is distressing.
In many chapters, Moshman’s extensive use of long citations is quite distracting. Since this is a small book, including so many direct quotes from primary sources is more distracting than it is illuminating. Clearer definition of terms and exposition of theory and research would have been more helpful. Sometimes the research findings are presented carefully and in a well-documented fashion. At other times, Moshman is sketchy with the details of the studies or he does not include the necessary citations. For example, in discussing the research on gender differences in identity construction he says, "the literature on identity formation suggests that mean gender differences, where they exist at all, are generally minimal when compared to the enormous variability within each gender. In other words, gender accounts for surprisingly little of the enormous variability among adolescents in matters of identity formation" (pg. 84). No citations are given for any of these statements. In Moshman’s summary at the end of this section, he says, " research does not support suggestions of categorical differences in identity formation between women and men or among some finite number of cultures" (pg.85). This comes after only two and a half pages about the relationship of gender and culture to adolescent development, most of which are quotes about theory and research summaries with no citations.
Overall, I would recommend this book to those who already have a good grasp of developmental theory and research. I found Moshman’s ideas and research about psychological development during adolescence illuminating and exciting. As I read this book, I wished that he had spent more time presenting his research on his pluralist rational constructivist theory of the development of rationality, morality, and identity in adolescence and less on reviewing the developmental literature.