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What Are The Psychological Differences Between Adults And Children?

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william hellberg Profile
Word is that the human brain doesn't really "settle in" to adult form till around the age of 25.  Sigmund Freud is of historical interest.  The final chapters are yet to be written, and will prove a good read indeed.  Stay tuned...
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The main psychological differences between children and adults are cognitive and social. A child must acquire certain mental capabilities such as problem solving, memory and language, as well as learning how to adapt and blend in to certain social situations.

As with any psychological concepts there are multiple schools of thoughts regarding the way we learn and whether our development is genetic or learnt (nature/nurture).

Cognitive
As we grow up we develop cognitive skills such as problem solving and language acquisition. The differences between a child and adult's cognitive skills are great, but it must be noted that most psychologists believe that we as humans are constantly developing and so the psychological differences are simply stage related, in that adults are simply at a more advanced stage of learning.

Cognitive stages in infancy
The first cognitive stage of development involves acquiring sensory motor skills such as using touch and taste to differentiate between objects. As a child progresses they learn thinking skills such as words, symbols and images to represent the world. This stage is called the preoperational stage and as with the sensorimotor stage if we fail to grasp these concepts we may struggle to fit in or function as adults.

Eventually, provided we successfully develop through the first stages, we learn to think logically and abstractly. These stages are known as the concrete operational and formal operational stages.

Social psychological differences between adults and children
While many cognitive traits can be learnt in formal environments, social traits are all dependent on who we interact with and where we grow up. It is quite possible for a child to have greater cognitive capabilities than an adult, which is why social psychological differences become so important in differentiating between the two. Many adults have more awareness of the world and of their fellow human beings than a child.

Freudian ideas regarding the social differences between adults and children
Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud spoke of the Id, Ego and Super-ego. He argued that children are born with the basic human drives that require food, sex, water and other hedonistic natural impulses; this is known as the Id. In early childhood an infant is unaware of social restraints and simply desires things that offer instant gratification.

Picture courtesy of the BBC

As a child begins to grow up it develops an Ego and a Super-ego. The Super-ego acts as the opposite of the Id and means that feelings of guilt and restraint are subconsciously present if we display socially unacceptable behaviour or desires.

The Ego on the other hand is the mediator of the two and ensures that we act in an acceptable way. The Ego is based more in reality as opposed to the subconscious desires and instincts present in the Id and Super-ego. As adults we attempt to appease our Id and Super-egos, but when this becomes unacceptable our egos step in and ensure we act reasonably.

While it's true that some adults lack cognitive and social skills, the majority of adults have learnt that their actions will be perceived in a certain way by other people. Being able to empathise with other people is a fundamental difference between adults and children and learning such a skill at a young age is said to aid in the quest to be seen as a mature, well rounded and intelligent individual.
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