Member Spotlight:

September 2017: Oliver Robinson, Ph.D.

Senior Lecturer in Psychology
Department of Psychology, Social Work and Counselling
University of Greenwich

1. What led you to be interested in emerging adulthood/emerging adults?

I had a difficult and emotionally volatile time in my early and mid-twenties, which peaked as a major crisis about a year or two after leaving university. I struggled with conflict surrounding my aspirations and goals, my spiritual beliefs, my relationship with my parents, my culture and its materialistic ethos, and with my sense of ‘who I really am’ underneath my cultural conditioning and the social expectations placed on me. I then did a PhD exploring whether and why other people had been through this kind of existential crisis while in their twenties, and this led to a decade of work investigating the topic in a variety of ways. I now refer to is the phenomenon as ‘quarter-life crisis’, and see it as intricately linked to emerging adulthood, particularly in the passage out of emerging adulthood (as discussed in Robinson, O.C. (2015). Emerging adulthood, early adulthood and quarter-life crisis: Updating Erikson for the twenty-first century. In. R. Žukauskiene (Ed.) Emerging adulthood in a European context (pp.17-30). New York: Routledge).

2. What is your current EA-focused research, if any? Can you share with us any results?

I am currently writing up a longitudinal study of university graduates, where I followed 200 graduates for a year after leaving university and asked them on three occasions over that year to rate their wellbeing, depression symptoms, career status and sense of authenticity. At the end of the study, they reported if they had been through a major personal crisis during the past year, and described these crises in short written vignettes. 30% stated that the past year had been one of major crisis. This suggests that the transition out of Higher Education is a very sensitive one and needs much more support than is currently being offered. Here is one example of one vignette from the study:
“I struggled to find a secure job either related to what I studied or otherwise. I started questioning what my point in life was and wondered how I even managed to get a degree in something employers appeared to think I was no good in. My partner left for university as well which left me feeling very alone, and I realised that the little money I got from my job would never be enough for me to become an independent adult. The realisation of that was crushing.”

3. What have you been reading or watching lately that has stimulated your thinking about EA or related issues?

I recently watched a fascinating documentary about the ‘idol’ craze in Japan, which is available to view on Youtube, and have been reading about how Japanese many young adults have given up on relationships and sex. This information from Japan has made me reflect on how emerging adults in different cultures are responding to the challenges of technology and changing social expectations and demands surrounding love and sex. Recently, an eminent futurologist has predicted that by 2050, sex with robots will be more prevalent than sex with humans. We surely are living in strange and challenging times!!

February 2017: Jennifer Connolly

1. What led you to be interested in emerging adulthood/emerging adults?

I was analyzing our findings from a longitudinal study of adolescents which we had initiated when the youth were 12 years of age and followed them through to the end of age 18. It became clear to me that the romantic experiences of the oldest youth in that sample were quite different from those of the younger teenagers. Their relationships were deeper and more intimate. At the same time, there was a lot of variability in the romantic experiences of the oldest adolescents, with some of them engaging in long-term relationships and others showing a tendency to participate in more exploratory relationships. These findings were very interesting and suggested that emerging adulthood is a complex time for young people when they must balance competing priorities specifically romantic relationships and vocational or academic commitments. Instead of seeing romantic relationships follow a linear developmental trajectory from adolescence, the possibility emerged that multiple pathways were possible. With my colleague Shmuel Shulman we explored this idea in a paper that was published in Emerging Adulthood in 2013. Subsequent studies began to include an emerging adulthood sample along with adolescent groups and these studies have allowed us to more carefully examine how the relationships of emerging adults differ from those of adolescents, sometimes showing continuity and at other times showing romantic patterns that resemble those of much younger adolescents.

2. What is your current EA-focused research, if any? Can you share with us any results?

We have just completed a project on romantic breakups, focusing on the reasons given for the relationship termination. While we know that relationship terminations are common in emerging adulthood we know relatively little about young people’s understanding of why these relationships ended. We believe that exploring the reasons “why” relationships fall apart may help us understand the mechanisms that can explain poor post-relationship adjustment and distinguish them from non-problematic outcomes. Our sample included both late adolescents and young adults. The most frequently cited reason was a loss of pleasant affiliation with the partner. Loss of intimacy was significant for more serious relationships and the young men were more likely to cite infidelity as a reason for the breakup then were the young women. We think these findings highlight the importance of rewarding social interactions between partners in maintaining positive romantic relationships.

3. What have you been reading or watching lately that has stimulated your thinking about EA or related issues?

Interesting question! I have been watching the Netflix series The Crown which chronicles the life of Queen Elizabeth II as she becomes the monarch at the age of 22. Viewed through the lens of emerging adulthood the series speaks to the enormous strengths and potential of young adults and gives one confidence in their ability to rise to the many challenges that face them during the turbulent years of their 20’s.

July 2016: Carolyn Barry

1. What led you to be interested in emerging adulthood/emerging adults?

My research on emerging adults began at the end of my graduate school career. Jeff Arnett had presented his seminal work on the internal markers of adulthood to a research center at the University of Maryland, where I was enrolled. My fellow grad school friend, Larry Nelson, heard Jeff's lecture and approached me about collaborating on a research project on this new idea of emerging adulthood. Having studied adolescent peer relationships for my dissertation, I thought my interests would still be relevant among emerging adults. I collected data in the two months before I graduated in Spring 2001, and then in my first year of a tenure-track position at Loyola University Maryland (formerly named Loyola College in Maryland), and Larry simultaneously collected data at his new institution of Brigham Young University. With these three samples of college students, we began our journey into studying factors that promote a successful transition to adulthood. Since we had data from one large public institution, and two religiously-affiliated institutions, we added in some religious beliefs and practices variables amidst lots of psychosocial adjustment indicators, which lead to many publications toward tenure at each of our institutions.

2. What is your current EA-focused research, if any? Can you share with us any results?

In the last several years I have been focusing on emerging adults' religiousness and spirituality in my research, having mapped the state of the literature in this area in an encyclopedia essay (Barry, Nelson, and Abo-Zena, forthcoming, Encyclopedia on Adolescence, Springer), handbook chapter (Barry & Abo-Zena, 2016, Handbook on Emerging Adulthood by Oxford University Press), and an edited volume (Emerging Adults' Religiousness and Spirituality: Meaning-making in an Age of Transition; Barry & Abo-Zena, 2014, Oxford University Press). In my empirical work, I have been focusing on a particular retrospective account of faith activities in the home as a predictor of assorted outcomes ranging from sexual behaviors (Barry, Willoughby, & Clayton, 2015, Journal of Adult Development) to religious beliefs and practices (Barry, Prenoveau & Diehl, 2013, Journal of Psychology and Christianity) to still other outcomes in forthcoming manuscripts. Having taught lifespan development to undergraduate and graduate students for almost 20 years I'm fascinated by the ways in which children learn what they live later on in their lives as emerging adults.

3. What have you been reading or watching lately that has stimulated your thinking about EA or related issues?

Since the publication of my edited volume in 2014, I became intrigued by the growing proportion of emerging adults with no religious affiliation. I'm currently reading Drescher's Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America's Nones, as well as Zuckerman, Galen, and Pasquale's, The Nonreligious. While countless studies have shown religion to be a supportive context for emerging adults' development in reducing many risk behaviors, other studies have shown religion to be a context that can promote prejudice and discrimination, and significant internalizing symptomatology. Yet in the case of the nones (i.e., nonreligious), I'm currently wondering about the ways in which emerging adults who choose to not be part of any religious context can be supported in acquiring their values and worldviews to be successful in such a complex world. Relatedly, in what contexts do they find meaning and mentors that can promote their discernment? These questions seem essential for us to consider to ensure that emerging adults develop internally in order to contribute positively to society as adults.

For more information on Dr. Carolyn Barry's work, see

April 2016: Elizabeth Morgan

1. What led you to be interested in emerging adulthood/emerging adults?

My research focus is on sexuality, which is an important part of emerging
adult development. I am generally interested in how sexual development
occurs from childhood throughout adulthood, but there tends to be a lot of
interesting stuff going on during the emerging adult years. Having a
specific interest in sexual identity in particular, there are many
experiences and shifts in understanding related to sexual identity that
occur during emerging adulthood, making it a useful developmental period
for contextualizing my research. Despite my almost exclusive research focus
on sexuality, I can't imagine trying to understand one piece of human
experience without taking into account how it intersects with other pieces.
As such, understanding a broad array issues and experiences of people
during this time in their lives has been important and interesting to me as
a scholar as well as in my teaching.

2. What is your current EA-focused research, if any? Can you share with us
any results?

My recent research has been focused on investigating heterosexual identity
development among emerging adults. Most recently, I have been collecting
data through focus groups and questionnaires about how
heterosexual-identified emerging adults engage in "heterosexual marking",
or public displays of heterosexuality. I am interesting in not only
identifying the ways in which they do this, but the intent behind it, which
can help us understand what this identity means to them, especially in a
social context. The results so far have indicated clear patterns in the
types of heterosexual marking that occur, and these generally include:
indicating a romantic and/or sexual interest in the other sex, engaging in
gender conforming behavior, and projecting a "non-gay" identity, which
often takes the form of displays of sexual prejudice. Results have also
shown that these behaviors and emerging adults' understandings of their
heterosexuality are entangled with heterosexism and sexism, as well as a
binary conceptualization of sexual orientation.

3. What have you been reading or watching lately that has stimulated your
thinking about EA or related issues?

I have been really interested lately in learning more about the experiences
of emerging adults who fall into the "forgotten half" - those who do not
attend college or do briefly but do not complete it. Having done my
research almost exclusively with college students and working almost
exclusively with college-going emerging adults as a professor, I am
constantly reminded that this population is having a very different
experience than their counterparts who are not in college. There are some
scattered studies that compare college-attending to non-college attending
emerging adults and other research that has looked at specific
sub-populations of non-college attending emerging adults, but as a field of
study, we could be doing a lot better at working to understand the
experiences of a more diverse group of emerging adults.

February 2016: Maria Wangqvist

1. What led you to be interested in emerging adulthood/emerging adults?

During my studies for a master in clinical psychology I was always very interested in adolescent development and I decided to write my master thesis on identity development. That led me into a (still ongoing) collaboration with Profs Ann Frisén and Philip Hwang who were just starting up a project were emerging adults were interviewed about their identity. The work with my master thesis was what led me into reading about Jeff Arnett’s theory on emerging adulthood, which helped put a lot of the issues raised in my thesis work (and consequent PhD-studies) into a theoretical framework. Learning more about development during the twenties also offered a framework for understanding and thinking about many of the clinical issues my peers and I had been struggling with when doing clinical work with individuals in that age-span.

2. What is your current EA-focused research, if any? Can you share with us any results?

Much of my work is still within the longitudinal project that I started to work with when I did my master thesis and dissertation. In longitudinal projects people inevitably get older and we are really excited about the possibility to follow these individuals with identity interviews and other measures as they are transitioning out of emerging adulthood. So, I would say that is one of the things that excites me the most right know. What can we learn about the development in emerging adulthood by investigations of identity issues in the later parts of this period and among individuals who are just about to leave emerging adulthood behind?

For example, in one study, which we are just about to submit, we (me, Johanna Carlsson, and Ann Frisén) look at how parents in late emerging adulthood (29 years old) coordinate their commitments to work and family. In another study (see reference below) we investigate identity development in relation to romantic relationships in the late twenties (between ages 25 and 29). Ann and I have also just published a chapter (reference below) on emerging adulthood in Sweden in an edited book about emerging adulthood in a European context.

Additionally, I have just started a part time position where I meet emerging adults in a clinical setting, this, I hope, will generate new and important insights and research questions.

Here are some references to our most recent work:
Wängqvist, M., & Frisén, A. (2016). Swedish emerging adults sense of identity and perceptions of adulthood. In R. Žukauskienė (Ed.) Emerging adulthood in a European context. (pp. 154-174). Taylor & Francis (Psychology Press)

Carlsson, J., Wängqvist, M., & Frisén, A. (2015). Life on hold: Staying in identity diffusion in the late twenties. Journal of Adolescence. Advance online publication. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2015.10.023

Wängqvist. M., Carlsson, J., van der Lee, M. & Frisén, A., (in press). Identity Development and Romantic Relationships in the Late Twenties. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research doi: 10.1080/15283488.2015.1121819

3. What have you been reading or watching lately that has stimulated your thinking about EA or related issues?

Right now I am really preoccupied with the transition to adulthood (emerging adulthood) in care settings and how, particularly, mental health care facilities adjust to meet the specific circumstances and demands of emerging adults. So far I have mainly addressed this by reading individual stories in the news and a recent focus in one of our daily newspapers about this issue, but I look forward to learning more about this transition from a scientific perspective.

October 2015: Laura Padilla-Walker

Each newsletter, we feature an SSEA member. This month, the spotlight is on Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker, Associate Professor of Family Life in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences at Brigham Young University. For more information about Dr. Padilla-Walker, please visit her faculty page at:

1. What led you to be interested in emerging adulthood/emerging adults?

I have long been an adolescent scholar but when I came to BYU several of my colleagues introduced me to the theory of emerging adulthood and I began to have a number of questions about development during this time period that seemed relatively unanswered. I was introduced to scholars and mentors in this area who continued to fuel my interest in emerging adults and we launched a research project (Project READY) where we began to answer some of the questions I had that lead to continually complex questions. It was an exciting time to enter a field at its inception and learn with other scholars and friends about how we can influence optimal development during this time period.

2. What is your current EA-focused research, if any? Can you share with us any results?

I study parenting and moral development during emerging adulthood. In the area of parenting our team focuses on how parents maintain an important role in the lives of emerging adults and how parenting changes (or should change) during the transition to adulthood. My focus on moral development and positive development during this time period is in an attempt to highlight one of the positive sides of this time period, as the majority of research paints a relatively negative picture of emerging adulthood. Myself and a colleague are currently working on an edited volume with Oxford about Flourishing during Emerging Adulthood and it is a very exciting project we are looking forward to sharing in hopes that it moves the field forward in this direction.

3. What have you been reading or watching lately that has stimulated your thinking about EA or related issues?

I recently read a book about two young black men from the same area, one who went to prison and one who avoided trouble and became very successful. Both had excellent potential, only one had the opportunities he needed to succeed. This and other books I read about trajectories and opportunities stimulates my thinking about this “forgotten” group of young individuals and how we can best help them as scholars. We need to move beyond college students and explore different cultures and SES, as well as those who don’t attend college regardless of SES. I appreciate the research that is attempting to do this and hope that our own research team can do the same in an attempt to explore flourishing and floundering among a greater variety of those who are considered emerging adults.

 July 2015: Janice Abarbanel

Each newsletter, we feature an SSEA member. This month, the spotlight is on Dr. Janice Abarbanel, the Chair of the Study Abroad Topic Network. Dr. Abarbanel is a psychologist and health educator specializing in the fields of emerging adulthood and study abroad. Please click here to read more about how Dr. Abarbanel came to these fields.

I came to SSEA through a variety of paths -- at first around 2005 when I read about Arnett's concept of Emerging Adulthood. I had a clinical practice as a psychologist and family therapist for many years in D.C. and met with many high school and college students. It was a natural step for me to pay attention to the research describing this new life stage. (I had been a student of Erikson's in college, a significant developmental experience for me, one that motivated me to enter the mental health field.)

I have varied international experiences as a clinician, most recently working as NYU's first onsite psychologist at the Berlin study abroad academic center. From an intercultural point of view, I began to train the German staff about "who" the students were (i.e., Emerging Adults). This process contributed to my understanding that being an overwhelmed student abroad is likely a normal experience, and not necessarily mental illness. The skill sets for shifting cultures do not always come easily to our students -- particularly in the last 10 years as our culture has become more defined as "anxious". In addition, from abroad, American students are seen as "medicalized" -- arriving with medicines to manage moods and less so with skills to regulate emotions when things feel difficult. This perspective motivated me to move towards a role within SSEA, a way for me to shift into a position as a health educator (or health communicator) as a balance to a clinical lens. I left Berlin in the late Fall 2014 to return to the US (Boston) to further connect with SSEA and to work on bridging the research with those engaged with the growing field of study abroad and experiential education.

In January 2014, I became the Chair of the Study Abroad Network, a network for both researchers and practitioners. SSEA is committed to "researchers, policy makers, educators, and practitioners with special interests in development" during Emerging Adulthood. Our Topic Network has a vision to broaden the outreach and create important links between researchers and those on the ground with emerging adults. Unlike other Topic Network Chairs, I'm not a researcher. I believe that our organization will benefit with a wider corral to bring on board those who engage Emerging Adults 'on the ground', such as Gap Year programs, those working on ideas about National Service, Americorps, the US Peace Corps, and study abroad. These programs' populations are, for the most part, emerging adults, and it's not common for any of the providers to know about the EA research. So, there is bridging work to be done. The Study Abroad Network is just one step in this direction. In my work, I am also attempting to shift the conversation in Study Abroad programming toward an understanding of our students’ developmental gifts and challenges.

April 2015: Eva Lefkowitz

Each newsletter, we will feature an SSEA member. This month, we are featuring Eva Lefkowitz, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Professor-in-Charge of the Graduate Program in the Human Development and Family Studies Department at the Pennsylvania State University, and Chair of the Sexuality Topic Network. Further information about Eva’s research can be found at and she writes a blog, focusing primarily on professional development, which can be found at

1. What led you to be interested in emerging adulthood/emerging adults?
In graduate school, my work focused predominantly on early adolescents (age 10 – 14). In particular, I examined their communication with their mothers about sex-related topics. I think I became interested in emerging adults because I spend so much of my life surrounded by them. I’ve spent almost 30 years living or working on college campuses. Studying sexuality in emerging adulthood is particularly fascinating, and you can definitely get the sense of emerging adults being “in-between” when you study sexual health. At times they seem to make very mature decisions, and other times, you look at the data and wonder what was going on that led so many to make such a decision.

2. What is your current EA-focused research? Can you share with us any results?
My research takes a developmental perspective on sexual behaviors and attitudes during adolescence and the transition to adulthood. In my research program, I emphasize the importance of recognizing the multi-dimensional nature of sexual health, considering physical, mental, emotional, and relational aspects of health and wellbeing. In recent research, I address two fundamental empirical questions: (a) what predicts the distinct negative and positive behavioral and psychological components of sexual health? and (b) what are the broader health and relationship implications of sexual health? One of the great things about being a professor in a department with a doctoral program is having students whose interests lead me in unexpected directions. For instance, our recent work demonstrates longer term consequences of sexual behavior by tracking transition to first sexual intercourse longitudinally. Transition to first intercourse is a meaningful event in adolescents’ and young adults’ lives. Although past research suggests that first intercourse at a young age can be psychologically harmful, our research demonstrates that by emerging adulthood, when sexual intercourse is developmentally normative, transitioning to first sex is associated with decreased psychological distress and, for young men only, increased body satisfaction. This research highlights the importance of sexual behaviors beyond their implications for physical health, demonstrating that by emerging adulthood, sexual behavior can positively contribute to wellbeing, and that future empirical and translational work needs to consider this positive role of sexuality.

January 2015: Kate McLean

Each newsletter, we will feature an SSEA member. Our inaugural newsletter edition features Kate McLean, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at Western Washington University and Co-Chair of the Identity Issues Topic Network. Further information about Kate’s research can be found at

1. What led you to be interested in emerging adulthood/emerging adults?

My interest is in adolescence and emerging adult development. This is primarily because I study the development of identity, and these are stages where the demand to attend to this task, and the abilities to do so, heighten. My approach is based in narrative theory, which moves me to attend to the stories that people construct about their pasts, how those stories are actually constructed, and how variation in individual’s stories relates to personality and adjustment. I am particularly interested in the role of uncertainty and challenge in identity development. When people are faced with uncertainties or obstacles, this is often when we can ‘see’ more intense identity work, and emerging adulthood is a time when challenge and uncertainty are particularly common.

2. What is your current EA-focused research? Can you share with us any results?

Developing an identity is a psychosocial task that really lays the groundwork for many aspects of adult development (including continued identity development!). I am currently focused on how individuals integrate multiple aspects of themselves, and the world that surrounds them, to find a coherent way to understand themselves. My current work is focused on personal narratives about various aspects of self (e.g., career, gender roles, family), as well as master narratives, or larger cultural stories. Master narratives can facilitate identity development by providing frameworks in which to locate one’s self, and they can also constrain identity development by defining what kinds of identities are acceptable in a given society. Thinking about the connection between personal experience and societal structures is critical and complicated – it keeps me busy.

4. What have you been reading or watching lately that has stimulated your thinking about EA or related issues?

Karl Ove Knausgĺrd’s six-volume ‘autobiographical novel,’ My Struggle, has me thinking about identity and story with some regularity. The first and third volumes highlight the way that the mundane nature of adolescence and emerging adulthood comes face to face with the disruption and trauma that everyone will face at some point (e.g., losing a parent), and how identity develops in the interface between large and small stories. In the second volume, his description of being a Norwegian in Sweden brings to life identity issues of place and culture, as well as how challenging it can be to integrate various parts of the self (e.g., self as writer, father, husband). I am eagerly awaiting the translation of Volume 4 to see what more I can learn from him.