Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Lani Van Dusen


Michael Bertoch


The theory of formal operations as a final stage of adult development has come under criticism for various reasons, primarily the overemphasis on logical thought processes which are based on invariant and absolute rules within a closed system. Everyday problems, in contrast, are typically "open-ended" and are defined by the context in which they are embedded.

The purpose of this study was to investigate cognitive behaviors that occurred between two individuals as they cooperatively worked together to solve logical problems. Of interest were the effects of marital adjustment on cognitive performance, the relation between social behaviors, marital adjustment, and cognition, and the influence of familiar versus a stranger dyadic problem-solving setting on cognitive behaviors. It was hypothesized that well adjusted married and stranger dyads would not only demonstrate mastery of problem-solving tasks at the formal operational level, but would also demonstrate more relativistic and/or dialectical problem solving, and more facilitative social behaviors, than poorly adjusted married and stranger dyads.

Forty couples between the ages of 35 and 50, who had been married between five and thirty years, were prescreened for verbal intelligence and marital adjustment. They were then randomly assigned to participate in one of four dyadic settings, that is, maritally well versus poorly adjusted couples solving problems in either married or unmarried/stranger dyads. Dyads were administered five formal operational problems. Two of the five were formal logical, or mathematical in nature, while three problems contained both mathematical and interpersonal, or social elements. Each dyad was videotaped during the problem-solving process, beginning with the instructions. Participant averaged about 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete five problems.

Analyses of variance were performed on marital adjustment and dyadic setting as related to formal and relativistic cognitions. There were no marital adjustment or dyadic setting differences in overall ability to use formal operations. However, maritally well adjusted stranger and married dyads evidenced significantly more relativistic cognitions, particularly on problems involving a social/everyday element, than poorly adjusted married and stranger dyads. These differences also held constant across each of three increasingly complex levels of relativistic behaviors. Multivariate analyses were performed on four separate social behavior scales as related to formal and relativistic cognitions, as well as marital adjustment and dyadic setting groups. Again, formal operations did not distinguish between the differing social behaviors; however, the social behavior scales, particularly avoidant versus cooperative behaviors, were strongly related to marital adjustment and relativistic thinking.



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