There are several theories that seek to explain the abilities, behaviors and skills of individuals in different stages of their life. They include the psychosocial, biosocial and the cognitive theories of growth and development. They propose the expected behavior of an individual at the different stages of their life. Naturalistic observation is one of the ways that researchers employ to support the external validity of various research findings. The researchers embark on the study of a certain behavior as it occurs in its natural behavior. To ensure the validity of the results, the researchers should neither interrupt nor manipulate the activities and behavior of the individual(s) under study in any manner (Alwin et al., 2007, p. 106). I observed the behavior of my 48-year-old aunt. She is a black- American. This study will assess if my aunt is developing typically or atypically according to Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development.
Individuals in their middle-adulthood exhibit a high degree of awareness of the aging direction in which they are moving. This often leads to enhanced appreciation of the elderly and their needs, a sense of affinity with parents and other key counter-players in life (Alwin et al., 2007, p. 105). It also enhances a willingness to seek information and help when needed, and among some individuals, a deepened understanding of the various influences on their own and other’s development.
The need to learn new things, as necessitated by the advancement in technological advancements, is evident in middle-adulthood. This does not occur passively and content is not learned in final form, merely pulled in from the external environment (Kail& Cavanaugh, 2004, p. 91). Both in terms of motivation and with respect to perpetual-psychosocial filters, the adult operates as the control who selects, reviews, revises and sometimes rejects what is perceived and sometimes assimilated (Huddlestone & Unwin, 2007, p. 55; Hoare, 2001, p. 56). The adult evaluates material as it arrives and he/she determines with value primacy intact, content that will be accepted and material that will be altered, revised or rejected. Thus the adult functions both as the agent of personal change and as the medium who differentially blocks and restructures, re-creates and sometimes rejects content and opportunities for not only psychosocial but also behavioral change.
Middle-aged adults are usually afraid of losing control of their everyday activities. A sense of being in control is something that every individual works to develop early in their life. In middle-adulthood, the adult works hard to ensure that they maintain such control as they consider it a perpetual need throughout their life (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2004, p. 103). However, it is the fear of losing such centrality, authority and power that hampers the adult’s “ability to be magnanimous”, accepting of others and unprejudiced (Hoare, 2001, p. 180). Erickson held that many women are superior to men in possessing and demonstrating the gifts of tacit, perceptual insight. More empathetic and compassionate, gentler and more peace-loving (Galinsky, Gruenfeld, & Magee, 2003, p. 460; Eagly, 1987, p. 62).
The locus of learning in middle-adulthood is more external. Experiencing life and learning from various roles, events, and commitments and eventually lead to greater interiority and to an increasingly internal locus in which the self is used as the primary referent for beliefs, decisions and actions (Freeman & Michael, 2004, p. 82). The greater interiority that appears in middle-life also seems to be due to life reflection and to placing one’s youth in the past as a new chapter begins.
Narrative: Behaviors, activities and interactions
As aforementioned, the individual under observation for this particular study was my 48-year-old aunt, Lucia. She is a mother of two daughters and she is actively involved in the running of their family agricultural business i.e. their plantations. Her mother who is sixty-nine years old owns the business and works closely with her daughter (my aunt) therefore, they interact a lot on an everyday basis.
The study began at 8:00 AM in the morning as the family gathered in the dining table for their breakfast. On arriving at the dining table, Lucia noticed that her mother had not yet arrived in the dining room for her breakfast though her two daughters were already in the room. She refused to join the two for breakfast without the presence of her mother. She asked the house-help if had not called her mother for breakfast that morning. She did not hesitate to go to her mother’s bedroom to ask her to come for breakfast besides seeking to know if she was fine. As they walked down the stairs to the dining room, she seemed very happy. On arriving at the dining table, she pulled a chair for her mother and proceeded to serve her breakfast.
During the breakfast time, she was actively involved in a conversation with her mother and two daughters. She congratulated her youngest daughter for her engagement party, which was due that evening. She expressed her joy and requested her to emulate her example in life. Shortly after breakfast, her mother was in a hurry to leave the table. However, she held her hand and requested her to stay. Though her mother was quite reluctant, she could not let her go. She asked her about the things that she had to take care pertaining their family business. She was keenly listening and nodding as her mother informed her of the day’s plans. However, her mood changed instantly after her mother informed her that she had hired an agricultural engineer who would help in running the business. She stood up and as though in deep thought, moved back and forth across the dining room. She could not hide her feelings as she explained to her mother why hiring an engineer was not a good idea. Her mother persuaded her and asked her not to be stubborn. She needed to acknowledge that due to the technological advancement in the field of agriculture, she was rather incapacitated to run the ranch. It took 30 minutes for her mother to explain why their business required an agricultural engineer to help in running the business. She pulled out some of financial statements, which she presented to her mother as prove of her abilities in running the ranch profitably.
After realizing that she could not convince her mother, she left for her room where she stayed for almost an hour. She called her closest friend to inform her of how unfair her mother was to her. When one of the employees came looking for her, she refused to come out and attend to him. Although she looked so stressed out, she summoned the engineer for a meeting in her office. While in her office, she tried to calm down but to no avail. When the engineer arrived, she gave him a rather cold welcome as she ushered him in. The first topic of their conversation was about their respective positions in their running if the business. She made clear to the engineer that he was not taking her position in the company. To her relief, the engineer accepted that he would do as she wished since his intention as well as the reason why her grandmother had hired him was to ensure the success of the business and he would be co-operative. She could not hide her joy as she stood up and extended her hand to the engineer to officially welcome him to the business.
In their conversation, it was clear that my aunt was interested in learning some of the professional aspects about agriculture. She asked the engineer to assist her learn some of the basic principles in the field of agricultural engineering that would be helpful to her. The engineer outlined to her some of the things she had to learn both in the field and in on her own (the literature). To this effect, she told the engineer that she was only interested in the practical aspect of the principles, which she would learn in the field. One of the new projects was a sunflower plantation. Lucia requested the engineer to involve her from the first step to the realization of the yield form the sunflower plantation that he agreed to do. She was joyful as they laid down the plan for the new plantation.
After a one-hour discussion, they both left the office to the fields. After greeting the employees, she introduced the engineer to them and informed them of his role in the company. She walked around the field inspecting the employees. She reprimanded a few who did not impress her while congratulating the employees that she felt were doing a great job. In the company of the engineer, she visited the fields that were set aside for the new project.
Lucia’s behavior was in line with Erickson’s psychosocial theory of human development. She portrayed much concern for her mother. This depicts the value of her mother in her life, which she really appreciates. Additionally, she would not start the day without getting her mother’s opinion about the activities of the day. She had an accurate perception of the direction her life was taking. This explains her concern for her elderly mother (Alwin et al., 2007, p. 105).
Lucia was afraid of losing control of their business after her mother informed her that she had hired a new engineer. She could not hide her fury as she moved back and forth in the dining room. In addition, she locked herself in her room for an hour just to come to terms with the reality. Women in her age find it hard to hide their zeal to remain in control of their own their life. According to the psychosocial theory of development, her initial reaction was expected (Aiken, 1998, p. 92) because she had been in control of the business for years.
Another aspect that was clearly portrayed in her behavior was her zeal to learn more about the agricultural operations from an advanced level. She perfectly understood that her mother hired the new engineer since he had something new and valuable to the family business. This explains why she had to request the engineer to teach her some of the basic agricultural principles, which she would need to remain relevant in the field of agriculture. According to Hoare (2006), by middle age, different experiences inform each subject’s interpretation of knowledge and of the role and importance of experts and social events; whereas circumstances of life such as marriage, illness, employment, altered work-content travel and changes in personal goals have shaped thinking and ongoing learning (p. 26). At best, increased learning leads to a heightened sense of personal control. Inasmuch as she wanted to learn the professional aspect of the business, she needed to remain relevant even in the dynamic world (Settersten et al., 2005, p. 106). As aforementioned, people in this age group choose the method of learning they would want to apply. In her case, she preferred practical learning as opposed to the use of literature in building up her agricultural prowess.
Individuals at this age tend to draw some lessons from their history, which they pass to the rest of the community especially to their family. Besides her hard work in the family business, she does not neglect her family i.e. daughters. She told her daughter some of the important lessons she learnt from her relationship with her late father. Lucia’s advice to her daughter was driven by the fact that she believed that the lessons she had in life as far as relationships are concerned could be helpful to her daughter and would enable her to be happy in life. Following the above discussion, Lucia is developing typically according Erickson’s psychosocial theory of development.
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