Department of Psychology hosts public lecture on developmental changes during adolescence

By Stella Nyagwencha and Jemima Oloo

On Tuesday, May 23, the Department of Psychology hosted a public lecture titled ‘A critical phase: The importance of developmental changes during adolescence and intervention strategies for guiding the way’. The lecture was presented by Dr. Marko Luftenegger, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Vienna and Joy Muth from the Center for Teacher Education at the University of Vienna.

The event was attended by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Margee Ensign, the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic and Student Affairs, Prof. Munyae Mulinge, and the Austrian Ambassador, Mr. Christian Fellner. In her remarks, the Vice Chancellor emphasized the importance of adolescents in the society and challenged everyone present to implement relevant strategies not only at USIU-Africa but in Kenya, Africa and globally.

The Ambassador, on the other hand, stressed the importance of psychology for life and mentioned some of the important personalities in psychology who came from Vienna, Austria including Sigmund Freud.

In their presentation, Dr. Luftenegger and Ms. Muth emphasized the importance of adolescent stage is as it influences adolescents in the following later stages of life. Negative health problems that arise during adolescence were discussed and myths dispelled as adolescence can also be a stage of pleasure too. The important role that the brain plays in adolescence was emphasized as well as its plasticity. It was noted that growth of the brain is from the back to the front hence the delay in complete development of the prefrontal cortex.

It was noted that most studies done on adolescence are correlational hence not able to determine cause and effect. The audience got an opportunity to take part in fluid intelligence and crystalized intelligence tests. The importance of the school set up was discussed as adolescents spend a lot of time in school.

COVID-19 was a huge disruptor in the education sector, causing advanced effects for both students and educators. According to the presenters, students struggled with increased anxiety ranging from 28% to 41% and the prevalence of depression ranged from 23% to 39%. These students showed an increase in distress, loneliness and alcohol use. This was because of increase in screen time, less physical activity and sleep problems.

Educators also suffered due to COVID-19. The prevalence of anxiety, depression and stress ranged from 10% to 49.4%. Educators experienced a decrease in feelings of accomplishment, an increase in depersonalization and emotional exhaustion. Teachers who were younger, female and had chronic health issues struggled more with well-being.

The adverse changes and challenges exposed certain groups more than others for instance, individuals from poor and underdeveloped countries, individuals with special educational needs, individuals from families with low socioeconomic status and underprivileged students with subpar access to quality education.

The lecture ended with a discussion on the interventions that have been identified based on research done so far. We were all challenged to avoid depending on WEIRD research (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic populations) which is carried out among 10% of the world populations but tends to be is generalized globally.

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