Psychosocial Development During Adolescence
- Identity as an Adolescent Issue
Changes in Self-Conceptions
- First, unlike the child, the adolescent has the cognitive capability
to fully appreciate the reorganizations involving the self that are occurring.
Newfound cognitive abilities allow the adolescent to consider the future and
ask the question, "Who will I become?"
- Additionally, the dramatic physical changes that accompany puberty
propel the adolescent to engage in self-evaluation.
- Finally, changes in their social and interpersonal worlds compel
them to figure out what matters most to them, and how that fits with who they
would like to be.
- Three different, but interrelated approaches have been taken to
understand identity development in adolescence.
- One approach considers how individual's descriptions of the self
or self-conceptions change.
- A second approach focuses on how positively or negatively one feels
about the self (this is the affective component of the self known as self-esteem).
- Finally, a third way of looking at the self takes into consideration
one's sense of identity: a sense of who one is, where one has come from, and
where one is going.
- Generally, self understanding becomes more sophisticated, differentiated,
organized, integrated and more abstract as one enters adolescence. Due to these
changes, adolescents are better than children at engaging in false self-behavior.
- Dimensions of personality in adolescence
Changes in Self-Esteem
- Some psychologists have approached the study of individual differences
in self development by measuring dimensions of the personality. The Five Factor
Model identifies five personality dimensions (the Big Five): extroversion, agreeableness,
conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. These personality
dimensions appear to be both biologically and environmentally based.
- Researchers looking at changes in self-esteem (how positively or
negatively the individual feels about the self) in adolescence have found little
or no support for the storm and stress approach to adolescence.
- Adolescents' feelings about the self do fluctuate day to day (barometric
self esteem), especially during early adolescence, but self-esteem (baseline
self esteem) generally remains pretty stable throughout the course of adolescence.
- There are a number of correlates of self-esteem, including social
class, gender and academic ability.
- It has also become increasingly apparent that self-esteem is not
a global construct but is context dependent.
- Sex, class and ethnic differences in self-esteem
Antecedents and consequences of high self-esteem
- Feelings about physical appearance appear to be the strongest predictor
of overall self-esteem in adolescence, followed by feelings about peer relationships.
- These findings help to explain why young adolescent females experience
the most difficulties in self-image.
- Lower-class youngsters also experience more self-esteem difficulties
than middle-class youngsters.
- Surprisingly, research suggests that African American youth are
similar to White youth in self-esteem.
The Adolescent Identity Crisis
- Overall it has been found that self-esteem is enhanced by receiving
the approval of others, and by succeeding in school.
- Adolescents whose self-esteem is wrapped up in peer approval show
more behavior problems and poorer school performance.
- Academic success tends to lead to improvements in the way that adolescents
feel about themselves.
- Erikson's theoretical framework
Identity versus identity diffusion
- Erik Erikson's approach has been the most influential in the study
of identity (knowing who you are and what you can become).
- Erikson's theory is a lifespan perspective in which the individual
moves through eight stages; each stage poses a new and different psychosocial
crisis, which must be dealt with and hopefully resolved.
The social context of identity development
- The psychosocial crisis corresponding with adolescence is identity
versus identity diffusion.
- It is during adolescence that the individual should develop a balanced
and coherent sense of self that is consistent with the past, and lays the ground
work for the future. Interactions with others make the quest for an identity
Resolving the identity crisis
- The process of identity development will differ based on culture,
subculture and historical time period (Identity development in contemporary
industrialized cultures is a far more complex process than identity development
in traditional cultures): According to Erikson, identity development is so complex
in modern societies that to develop a coherent and flexible identity, a young
person needs a period of exploration and experimentation known as a psychosocial
Problems in identity development
- Resolving the identity crisis is experienced as a sense of wellbeing.
- Most writers believe that identity exploration continues into young
- Life commitments in a variety of domains (i.e. occupational, social,
religious) mark the successful resolution of the identity crisis.
- Identity development does not occur the same way for all individuals.
For some young people problems may occur.
- Identity diffusion
- Identity diffusion involves an incoherent and incomplete sense of self.
- Individuals who experience identity foreclosure commit to a particular identity
while forgoing a period of exploration and experimentation.
Research on Identity Development
- Finally, a negative identity may occur when an adolescent has difficulty
receiving recognition from parents and others for more acceptable pursuits.
- Determining an adolescent's identity status
Studying identity development over time
- James Marcia devised an approach to determine an adolescent's identity
- Using an interview or questionnaire, a researcher can measure an
adolescent's identity development concerning occupation, ideology and interpersonal
- Using two dimensions (sustained exploration and commitment), four
identity statuses are revealed: identity diffusion (no exploration and no commitment);
identity foreclosure (no exploration with a commitment); moratorium (exploration
without a commitment); and identity achievement (exploration with a commitment).
- Identity-achieved youth are the most psychologically adjusted youth,
while identity-diffused youth typically fare poorly on measures of psychosocial
- Parenting that combines warmth with moderate levels of control is
associated with healthy identity development in adolescence.
Shifts in identity status
- Studies suggest that establishing a sense of identity doesn't occur
much before the age of 18.
- The late teens and early twenties are a very important period in
identity development. During this time period, individuals move from one identity
status to another.
- Research has also demonstrated that college students make their
greatest identity changes in the area of occupational commitments.
The Development of Ethnic IdentityThe process of ethnic identity development
- Individuals move from one identity status to another throughout
the adolescent and young adult years.
- A four-year study of Dutch youth found that 60 percent of individuals
classified as diffused were no longer classified that way four years later and
this was also true of 75% of individuals who were classified as moratorium at
the beginning of the study.
- In the same study, a large percentage of the identity achievement
youth also shifted identity status over the course of the study.
- The underlying factors associated with changing from one identity
status to another are not well understood.
Alternative orientations to ethnic identity
- The process of the development of ethnic identity is similar to
the process of general identity development.
- Parents who actively engage in racial socialization with their children
have been found to speed up the process of ethnic identity development. However,
these children do not have stronger ethnic identities than children whose parents
did not engage in ethnic socialization.
- Jean Phinney has developed an approach to the development of ethnic
identity in which she discusses the possibilities available to young people
in their search for ethnic identity: assimilation, marginality, separation and
biculturalism. Some believe that biculturalism is the healthiest alternative.
Gender-role socialization in adolescence
- Gender is an important component of identity. From birth, males
and females are socialized to act in gender-appropriate ways.
- Masculine traits include being independent, logical and ambitious.
Feminine traits include being gentle, empathic and tender. Those who combine
these traits are said to be androgynous.
Masculinity, femininity and androgeny
- Some believe that the pressure to behave in gender appropriate ways
intensifies during adolescence (gender intensification hypothesis).
- This gender intensification is especially directed at females. Gender
intensification may lead to differential achievement, for males and females
in adolescence, in areas like math and science.
- It appears that gender is a more important portion of the identity
in adolescence than it is in childhood.
- Gilligan and Rogers argue that during adolescence, females realize
that the very things that they value the most, intimacy and interpersonal relationships,
are not highly valued in the broader society. As a consequence, girls feel confused
and ambivalent and this leads to a lack of self-assurance.
- During adolescence, the relationship between masculinity, femininity,
androgeny and self-image differs for males and females. In females, androgeny
tends to be associated with high self-esteem. In males, masculinity tends to
be associated with high self-esteem.