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Beginning in 1978, we have conducted a longitudinal study of early adolescent development. A major objective of this research has been to examine the influence of pubertal changes on other aspects of development during this period. With regard to pubertal effects we wished to address two major questions. First, what aspects of behavior seem to be affected by pubertal development? (In other words, are pubertal effects pervasive or relatively circumscribed, and if they are circumscribed, which aspects of behavior are involved?) Second, how does pubertal change exert an influence--does it operate directly on specific aspects of behavior and performance (for example, via direct effects of pubertal hormones on the brain), or are pubertal effects more often indirect through the stimulus effects of somatic pubertal changes and mediated by psychological and social factors? Thus far, most of our efforts have been directed toward answering the first question; we have only recently begun to explore the second.
Our approach to the question of pubertal effects has involved considering two aspects of pubertal development: (1) level of pubertal maturation (pubertal status) at a particular point in time (in this case, a particular grade level in school); and (2) timing of puberty, that is, whether adolescents are early, on time, or late in their pubertal development relative to their peers. In the first case, we are able to detect differences in behavior that are a function of pubertal status, controlling for grade level in school. Moreover, by comparing the patterns of effects at one grade with those at another we can attempt to replicate findings. This procedure yields a fairly direct indication of which aspects of behavior are influenced by pubertal change and which of these effects are reliable. On the other hand, by comparing early, on time, and late developers on various indices of psychosocial development, we can explore the effects of being deviant in pubertal timing relative to one's peers. Previous research in this area (e.g., Clausen, 1975; Jones & Bayley, 1950; Jones & Mussen, 1958; Mussen & Jones, 1957) suggests that deviance in this regard may be associated with lower self-image and related adjustment problems, particularly in the case of early-maturing girls and late-maturing boys (the two groups that are most deviant in pubertal timing relative to the majority of peers).
Thus far we have examined pubertal status effects within grade with respect to a variety of constructs, including cognitive performance, school achievement, moods, relationships with parents, relationships with same-sex and other-sex peers, self-image, and satisfaction with one's appearance. Additional analyses comparing early, on time, and late maturers are reported elsewhere (Petersen & Crockett, in press) and are only summarized here.