Models Linking Pubertal Processes And Psychosocial Adjustment

The research that links puberty with psychosocial adjustment involves two main categories of models—pubertal status and timing of puberty (Brooks-Gunn, Graber et al., 1994; Buchanan et al., 1992; Graber, Brooks-Gunn, & Archibald, 2005; Graber, Brooks-Gunn, & Warren, in press). Pubertal status models refer to adolescents' degree of physical maturation and their hormone levels. Models that examine hormone levels are considered direct effect models, and those that measure physical change secondary to hormone changes are considered indirect effect models. The theory behind status models is that girls may experience negative reactions or receive negative feedback from others about their development when they reach certain stages, or they may feel that certain behaviors are expected with increasing physical development. Pubertal timing models suggest that being either an early maturer or out-of-synch (earlier or later) with one's peers is what affects depressive outcomes. Other types of models suggest that it is not pubertal development per se, but factors that interact with the challenges of pubertal development that lead to more adjustment problems (Nolen-Hoeksema & Girgus, 1994). For example, risk factors for depression may be more common in girls than in boys before adolescence, but depression results when these factors interact with the challenges specific to early adolescence, such as pubertal development.

In general, any model describing the relationship between pubertal and social events in adjustment outcomes should be mediated rather than direct, bidirectional rather than unidirectional, and interactive rather than additive (Brooks-Gunn, Graber et al., 1994), as Figure 16.3 illustrates. A framework with three potential mediational processes between the hormonal changes of puberty and short-term effects on affective states is illustrated. The first mediational pathway shows the effect that timing of secondary sexual characteristic development links hormonal changes and affective states. The second mediational pathway highlights the effect of social experiences, including perceptions of puberty,

- Internal states

- Reactivity

- Central nervous system aspects of behavior and emotions

Hormonal

Hormonal

Social experiences and perceptions of puberty

Secondary sex characteristics

Secondary sex characteristics

Adjustment outcomes

Figure 16.3 Theoretical framework model linking puberty with adjustment outcomes in girls. Adapted from Brooks-Gunn, J., Graber, J. A., & Paikoff, R. L., "Studying links between hormones and negative affect: Models and measures," Journal of Research on Adolescence, 4, 469-486. Copyright 1994, reprinted with permission from Blackwell Publishing.

on affective states; this effect stems partly from hormonal changes and is also a response to changes in physical development during puberty. The third mediational link refers to internal states, such as central nervous system changes that stem from the hormonal changes, and individual differences in arousal and physiological reactivity. Figure 16.3 illustrates that some of the pathways are bidirectional, which means that girls' social experiences and behaviors may have effects on the hormonal systems, which may affect the timing of pubertal development. The following sections review the empirical evidence associated with the different aspects of this theoretical framework. More studies on links between puberty and adjustment have been conducted with girls than with boys. Also, studies have more often examined internalizing behaviors than externalizing behaviors.

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