This paper will discuss human behavior with regard to individual capabilities and limitations. Using the suggested case study and the situation and the characters discussed within, this essay will focus on the nine stages of cognitive development, as suggested by Perry et al (1970). The stages of cognitive development, described by Perry’s theory will be applied to the client, described in the case study. These stages are typical for the development of students, as emphasized by Kitchener et al (1993).

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Jayla, to whose case this paper is referring, at the time of her entering the college used to be on her first stage according to Perry’s theory: she knew that there were two ways of seeing the world – her own understanding of it and the wrong one. Her own position regarding religion used to be based on the things, which were told to her by her authorities. These authorities were, basically, the leaders of the church and, most likely, her parents. These were right in their views, while there existed an opposite point of view, which was, certainly, wrong. However, as she entered the college, she was exposed to a challenge: there appeared numerous beliefs and numerous diverse ways of seeing things. There were people, who believed differently and even named their gods in a different ways. In this diversity Jayla trusted her authorities and knew that among the diverse ways of seeing the world, they possessed the true knowledge and true virtue. This was her second stage of cognitive development.

However, as she got to know more people and got to understand more about the beliefs they held, Jayla came to understand that there were no such things as right and wrong. There was a diversity of opinions and in this diversity the authorities were seeking to find the truth. However this truth was not easy to be established. She came to understand, that those who saw things differently had the right for seeing things in their own way. Her God may not be the only or the right one. There may be a chance, that those people, who believe in a different God, or those, who believed in her god in a different way may also be right. It could very well be that those, who believed in no God at all, were right too. Thus, Jayla entered her third stage of cognitive development.

In her forth case she came to understand, that as there is no certainty in what is right to believe, this may be also true for things outside of religion. Jayla came to understand, that there was a lot of relativism in the knowledge. Knowledge was not about possessing information any longer; it was about the skill to deal with it. As she progressed further in her development and reached the fifth stage, Jayla came to see, that there were different “truths” in different situations. There is no way to establish a “correct” way of treating the same situation always in the same way. And what may be a sin in one situation may be very well justified in a different one. It is important to treat people and things they believe and do within the context. There is no truth or wrongful information beyond this context. In her sixth stage of development Jayla came to deeper understand the uncertainty of truth and of knowledge. Every position was to be concluded as a result of synthesizing the situation, the opinions of people, who were involved, and things they say and do.

On the next stage of her cognitive development Jayla came to understand, that the knowledge was coming as a result of considering different thoughts across domains, and thus in order to reach a conclusion she needed to consider the values of people, who believed differently, their values, their thoughts and feelings.

By the time when the situation described by the case study occurs, Jayla successfully reaches the eighth stage of her cognitive development. She still has got space for further development. But yet, she certainly managed to achieve significant progress. In the beginning, when she only entered the college, she knew only right and wrong. The world for her was a sort of black and white. Other colors were absolutely absent. As a result of her studies and her socialization with other people, the people, who possessed other views of life, Jayla at first came to understand, that there could be different beliefs, and they may be as important for the people who had these believed. The world gained color. But still, there was one dominant color in it; there was only one right truth. As she learned more about what people believed and how and why they believed this, she came to the understanding, that there is no “right color”; the world began “playing” with its colors. Jayla had her beliefs, but she respected the beliefs of others. Lastly, she came to understand, that the beliefs of others in some situations may not only be respected, but even justified.

This understanding helped her in her personal relations. The relations who brought her a lot of joy on the one hand were not very simple on the other. Even though Jayla and Elijah shared their views of the world to a large degree, they had different views as for their relations with each other. And her progress in cognitive and social development helped Jayla to cope with the uneasy situation.

Jayla was obviously experiencing the secure type of attachment to Elijah. She felt safe and enjoyed their relations, without requiring any proofs of Elijah’s feelings. Meanwhile, Elijah had a different view of the situation due to the different type of attachment he had for Jayla. His attachment was of anxious-ambivalent type, as described by McCarthy & Taylor, (1999). While seeking relations and proof of Kayla’s feelings for him, he felt abandoned whenever this proof was not provided explicitly. However, when Jayla’s attention was returned to him in full, he was very likely to become ambivalent. This pretty much satisfied Jayla, but his outbursts of suspicion were upsetting her and spoiling the taste of their relations and the security she felt around Elijah. And due to this type of attachment he was constantly suspicious of her, even though Jayla strongly believed that she provided no grounds for suspicion. In the beginning of their relations she was, certainly, irritated by his behavior, as she knew her true feelings and could not understand how he could suspect her of not being attached to him. But as she developed in the cognitive sphere, she came to understand, that he could have seen things differently, and there could have been reasons in his life and in his experience, which made him feel the way he did.

Certainly, it appears at first that Jayla’s type of attachment is much more beneficial. She feels a lot more comfortable in her relations, than Elijah does. But, on the other hand, there is a benefit in his type of attachment as well. Elijah is not as trustful towards his partner. He is suspicious and this suspicion in some situations may help him foresee certain difficulties in their relations which may come about. Meanwhile, Jayla in her secure attachment may appear to be entirely unprepared for the complications in their relations. Thus, the progress she made in her cognitive development helped Jayla a lot in her relations in Elijah and in her understanding of the world around her, including the diversity of religious views and beliefs. This understanding was critically important for her emotional sustainability.

  • Kitchener, K. S., Lynch, C. L., Fischer, K. w., & wood, R K. (1993). Developmental range of developmental stage. Developmental Psychology, 29, 893-906;
  • McCarthy, Gerard; Taylor, Alan (1999). “Avoidant/ambivalent attachment style as a mediator between abusive childhood experiences and adult relationship difficulties”. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 40 (3). pp. 465–477.
  • Perry, w. G. (1970/1999). Forms of ethica San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.