The research program is concentrating on a biopsychosocial model of development which postulates a dynamic interaction between biological, social and behavioral components which predicts the development of maladaptive and normative behavior. In some studies this is more implicit, whereas in others, the main focus is the very interplay among these aspects of development. Within this theoretical framework we conducted a pilot study (1998/1999) on 33 girls and their best female friends between 9 and 13 years of age (core sample). Departing from models of internalizing problem behaviors in adolescence, which delineate relationships between endocrinological processes, brain functioning, and experiences in social interactions, a research program was built on the antecedents and consequences of off-time pubertal maturation on different aspects of psychosocial functioning. Multiple methodologies have been tested which allowed us to collect endocrinological, physiological, cortical, psychological, and behavioral data in synchrony. First, besides collecting questionnaire data on pubertal development, social networks, and emotional development, we utilized event sampling methods to map possible links between daily events and hormonal changes. Second, in order to examine biological changes and behavioral correlates, we videotaped interactions between adolescent girls and their mothers, same-gender friends and other-gender peers. Finally, we collected positional data by using GPS data loggers and performed an EEG-experiment to learn about the girls' information processing of words related to puberty. The data analysis focussed on the correlates of variations in pubertal timing. We found, for instance, that early maturation in girls was not linked with depressive mood or eating disorders, although they experienced stronger negative emotional states, i.e. states of sadness, nervousness and tension, compared to other girls. Furthermore, we found that early and late maturing girls displayed more engagement toward their mothers than on-time adolescents, interpreted as individuated behavior. However, only the mothers of the early maturing girls accepted this behavior and reduced their attempts to control their daughters, which can be seen as a more mature interaction style.
In 2004 50 girls participated in a first follow-up of the study. The aim of the second study was to investigate circumstances of living and psychosocial adaptation of the 15 to 20 yr. old girls. Thereby, not only maladaptation (e.g. depression, substance abuse, delinquency) but also positive developmental outcomes, resources, and strengths (i.e. developmental assets) were studied. Developmental outcomes in late adolescence were linked with pubertal timing in early adolescence in order to investigate the long-term effects of inter-individual differences in the timing of pubertal maturation in girls. The reactivation of the sample was conducted by questionnaire. Results indicated that pubertal maturation had no effect on internalizing problems like depressive mood and symptoms of anxiety in this sample. Nevertheless, early maturing girls were higher in striving for individuation from parents and they reported less social support from others compared to other same aged girls. Finally, early as well as late maturing girls reported higher levels of substance use (cigarettes, alcohol) than on-time maturers.
In 2005/2006 all 50 girls of the core sample participated in a second follow up. We recruited an additional sample of young women in order to find a "twin" for every girl of the core sample. Girls of the core sample and the additional sample were matched individually. The first aim of this study was to investigate the effects of pubertal maturation in adolescence on the psychosocial adaptation of the 16 to 21 yr. old young women. Again, maladaption (externalizing an internalizing problem behaviour, young adult role attainment, e.g., early maternity) and also positive developmental outcomes (resources, life satisfaction) were determined. The second aim of the study was to identify factors which mediate the relationship between pubertal maturation in early adolescence and long-term problems in psychosocial adaptation in young adulthood. It was assumed that the quality of social relationships (e.g., to parents, friends, romantic partner) is such a mediator. We collected questionnaire data as well as observation and endocrinological data. Videotaped mother-daughter conflict discussions were used in order to look more closely at concrete interactions. Finally we measured salivary Cortisol as an indicator for stress during the mother-daughter interactions.
Results indicated that girls consistently classified as late maturing are more depressive and anxious in adulthood compared to normative maturing girls. Furthermore they reported a lower life satisfaction, all together indicating a worse psychosocial adaptation than other same aged-peers.
The consistently early maturing girls also strived more for autonomy in early adulthood (e.g. reacting more emotional regarding paternalism of their fathers and showed a smaller need for acceptance, closeness and support by their mothers). Additionally they had a higher biological stress reaction (alpha amylase) and criticized their mothers most within conflict discussion.
Choice of Publications
- Silbereisen, R. K. & Weichold, K. (in press). Jugend. In W. Schneider & U. Lindenberger (Eds.), Entwicklungspsychologie. Göttingen: Hogrefe.
- Weichold, K. & Silbereisen, R. K. (2011). Pubertät. In Fachlexikon der sozialen Arbeit (7. vollst. überarbeitete und aktualisierte Ausgabe) S. 684. Baden-Baden: Nomos.
- Weichold, K. Büttig, S. & Silbereisen, R. K. (2008). Effects of pubertal timing on communication behaviors and stress reactivity in young women during conflict discussions with their mothers. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(9), 1123-1133.
- Weichold, K. & Silbereisen, R. K. (2008). Pubertät und psychosoziale Anpassung. In M. Hasselhorn & R.K. Silbereisen (Eds.), Enzyklopädie Psychologie, Serie V (Entwicklung) Band 5 Entwicklungspsychologie des Jugendalters (S. 3-53). Göttingen: Hogrefe.
- Büttig, S., Weichold,K. & Silbereisen,R.K. (2007). Pubertäres Timing bei Mädchen und Folgen in der späten Adoleszenz.[Pubertal Timing in girls and consequences in late adolescence] Zeitschriftfür Entwicklungspsychologie und Pädagogische Psychologie, 39 (3), 111-119.
- Weichold,K., Silbereisen, R. K., & Schmitt-Rodermund, E. (2003). Short- and long-term consequences of early versus late physical maturation in adolescents. In C. Hayward (Ed.), Puberty and psychopathology (pp. 241-276). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Silbereisen, R. K. & K. Weichold