Cognitive Autonomy and Self-Evaluation in Adolescence: A Conceptual Investigation and Instrument Development

Article excerpt

Drawing on responses from a total of 852 participants a series of studies attempted to examine the conceptual development and potential utility of a measurement of cognitive autonomy in adolescence. Through four phases of instrument development the Cognitive Autonomy and Self-Evaluation (CASE) inventory was constructed to quantify five areas of independent thought, including a capacity (a) to evaluate thought,; (b) to voice opinion,; (c) to make decisions,; (d) to capitalize on comparative validations,; and (e) to self-assess. Acceptable reliability and validity estimates for the scales of this instrument from these scores indicate a potential for use with adolescent subjects. Further analysis revealed the promising attributes of three of the scales of the CASE inventory, including evaluative thinking, comparative validation, and decision making.

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Understanding the development of an adolescent's ability to think independently is significant for two important reasons. First, fostering cognitive autonomy and self-evaluation skills in adolescents can help them prepare for important decisions in adulthood (Jacobs & Klaczynski, 2002). Second, adults expect today's young people to make adult caliber decisions at earlier ages. Regrettably most adults do not appreciate the magnitude of their expectations nor do they recognize the limitations associated with developing adolescent cognition (Kegan, 1994).

For some time autonomy has been acknowledged by multiple theoretical perspectives as a developmental milestone of adolescence (Allen, Hauser, Bell, O'Conner, 1994; Noom, Dekovic, & Meeus, 2001; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986) rather than only a crisis of toddlerhood as proposed by Erikson (1968). From these modern perspectives adolescent autonomy is often considered in a tripartite conceptualization of independence implicating an ability to act autonomously, to feel autonomously, and to think autonomously. However, most attempts to quantify the development of adolescent independence have predominately focused on variations of emotional and behavioral autonomy (Beckert, 2005). Cognitive autonomy as a "stand alone" conceptualization of independence has received less attention in the scientific literature. Methodological limitations have contributed to the dearth of understanding relative to the cognitive independence manifest in adolescence. Only recently have researchers begun to examine the significance of assessing young people's impressions of their own independent thought (Casey & de Hann, 2002; Stefanou, Perncevich, DiCintio, & Turner, 2004). The importance of this type of assessment is underscored by the acceleration of cognitive responsibilities of young people. Professionals interested in fostering independent thought in adolescents can benefit from an assessment tool that measures a young person's current capacity for independent thought.

Today's adolescents resemble their adult counterparts in physical ways. With each new generation of youth in the United States and other developed nations, adult physical development is evident at younger ages. Outward signs of puberty begin on average at a much earlier age than in past generations (Herman-Giddens, Kaplowitz, & Wasserman, 2004). Because of this, adolescents look more grown up than they actually are. One result of this accelerated physical development is that young people are being put in situations requiring social maturity at earlier ages (Elkind, 2001). More young adolescents are confronting decisions about risk taking behaviors such as participation with drugs, alcohol, and sexual activity that a few generations ago were reserved for older adolescents and young adults.

Unfortunately, average early teens are not cognitively prepared to confront such mature circumstances. In absence of adequate cognitive development young teens often rely on instinct rather than good judgment in contemplating risk taking behavior. …