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Adolescence, 6/e
Laurence Steinberg, Temple University

Psychosocial Development During Adolescence

Chapter Outline

  1. Identity as an Adolescent Issue
    • 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.
  2. Changes in Self-Conceptions
    • 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.
    1. Dimensions of personality in adolescence
      • 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.
  3. Changes in Self-Esteem
    • 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.
    1. Sex, class and ethnic differences in 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.
    2. Antecedents and consequences of high self-esteem
      • 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.
  4. The Adolescent Identity Crisis
    1. Erikson's theoretical framework
      • 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.
    2. Identity versus identity diffusion
      • 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 possible.
    3. The social context of identity development
      • 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 moratorium.
    4. Resolving the identity crisis
      • Resolving the identity crisis is experienced as a sense of wellbeing.
      • Most writers believe that identity exploration continues into young adulthood.
      • Life commitments in a variety of domains (i.e. occupational, social, religious) mark the successful resolution of the identity crisis.
    5. Problems in identity development
      • 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.
      • Identity foreclosure
      • Individuals who experience identity foreclosure commit to a particular identity while forgoing a period of exploration and experimentation.
      • Negative identity
      • Finally, a negative identity may occur when an adolescent has difficulty receiving recognition from parents and others for more acceptable pursuits.
  5. Research on Identity Development
    1. Determining an adolescent's identity status
      • James Marcia devised an approach to determine an adolescent's identity status.
      • Using an interview or questionnaire, a researcher can measure an adolescent's identity development concerning occupation, ideology and interpersonal relations.
      • 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 adjustment.
      • Parenting that combines warmth with moderate levels of control is associated with healthy identity development in adolescence.
    2. Studying identity development over time
      • 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.
    3. Shifts in identity status
      • 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.
  6. The Development of Ethnic Identity
  7. The process of ethnic identity development
    • 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.
  8. Alternative orientations to ethnic identity
    • 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.
  9. Gender-Role Development
    • 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.
  10. Gender-role socialization in adolescence
    • 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.
  11. Masculinity, femininity and androgeny
    • 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.