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Is there a developmental purpose to adolescent transgressions?

Is there a developmental purpose to adolescent transgressions?


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Many adolescents transgress rules and break laws, not out of criminal intent or because they have some disorder, but "for fun", as an adventure, for the experience.

How is this explained from the perspective of psychology and cognitive sciences? Does this behavior serve a developmental purpose, or is it merely a dangerous side effect that is best suppressed and controlled by parents and authorities?


The following functions have been suggested1 for adolescent risk-taking behavior, such as psychoactive substance use, risky driving, or antisocial behavior:

  • self-affirmation and experimentation / exploration
  • identification and social acceptance
  • ritual and emulation
  • social visibility and desirability
  • self-exoneration
  • escape through action and excitement

But the term "risk" implies that these behaviors are not necessarily functional in the sense that they help the individual develop healthily. Smoking may lead to peer acceptance, but it is certainly not healthy.

Yet, the ubiquity of these behaviors suggests that they must serve some functional purpose. What is it?


1 Bonino, S., Cattelino, E., Ciairano, S., Mc Donald, L., & Jessor, R. (2005). Adolescents and Risk: Behavior, Functions, and Protective Factors. New York: Springer.


The function of rebellion is to challenge conclusions reached by previous generations.

If the conclusions of each generation were not challenged, errors in judgment would be perpetuated, leading to larger and larger errors in subsequent generations as each successive generation built upon the false conclusions of the previous generations.

This can be observed in technological and entrepreneurial "disruptions", in which rebels (entrepreneurs) gain competitive advantages by challenging established assumptions about the market, or "conventional wisdom," and generate creative solutions that serve as more than just clones of established business models. (PayPal, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, Uber, and perhaps even Tesla could be said to have profited from this disruptive, creative paradigm.)

Adolescents transgress for many reasons, but important to remember is that they often do so not in directed pursuit of goals, but rather to explore the possibility space and establish their sense of self-determination. Later, as goal-attainment becomes important, individuals who have explored larger spaces have larger bodies of experience upon which to draw, from which they can generate creative solutions.

I have no academic sources for these assertions. They are simply observations of learning patterns that I have seen others exploit, and thus learned to exploit myself.


Particularly Exciting Experiments in Psychology

Adolescence is an important developmental stage, characterized by marked biological and physiological changes.

Behaviorally, adolescence is associated with volatile emotions and boundary-testing behavior as individuals explore and assert personal identity, learn to navigate peer relationships, and transition to independence.

The strongest stereotypes of adolescence are portrayed in countless television shows and movies: the emergence of sexual interest and behavior, and decision-making dilemmas. These behaviors are studied in two recent papers.

Moadab and colleagues (2017, Behavioral Neuroscience) (PDF, 307KB) examine how early amygdala and hippocampus damage influence social behavior in adolescent female rhesus macaques. This is a continuation of their longitudinal analysis of affective and social behavior in rhesus macaques who received lesions at two weeks of age and were then socially housed (see Article Spotlight: Early Damage to the Amygdala or Hippocampus Has Subtle Effects on Adult Social Behavior).

In this study, social groups consisting of one adult male, one amygdala-lesioned female, one hippocampus-lesioned female, and one control female were formed when females reached the beginning of sexual maturity (approximately 4 years old). Observations during the first month of group formation revealed that while control and hippocampus-lesioned females interacted with the male in predicted ways, amygdala-lesioned females spent less time interacting with the male, and displayed fewer behaviors that signal sexual or reproductive interest (e.g., contact, proximity, reciprocal grooming).

This could be due to either an influence of amygdala damage on hormonal function, which would influence mating-relevant social behaviors, or to the fact that amygdala damage influenced dominance status (all but one of the amygdala-damaged females had the lowest social ranking), which would give these animals less access to the male.

Moadab et al. examine the contribution of the amygdala to the development of typical social behavior as animals reach sexual maturity. As teen dramas routinely remind us, sexual development is often coupled with decision dilemmas that entail an assessment of risk.

Somerville and colleagues (2017, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General) (PDF, 315KB) had participants aged 12–28 play one-armed bandit games in which two choices that differed in average reward magnitude were presented. Each game began with four fixed choices (made by the computer). In some games, the fixed choices were evenly distributed between the two choices, so participants had the same amount of information about each choice. In other games, the fixed choices were unevenly distributed (one choice selected once, the other selected three times). The dependent variable was the choice participants made on their first free choice.

Although overall levels of exploration did not vary with age, the strategic use of exploration differed from adolescence to adulthood, particularly in cases where one bandit had a higher reward value, and the other contained higher information value (i.e. fewer previous payouts displayed during fixed choices).

When there was only one free choice in the game, all participants generally exploited the high reward option. However, in games where participants would ultimately make six free choices, increasing age was related to an increased tendency to explore, reflected in a tendency to choose the lower value, higher information option.

These results suggest that decision-making in adolescence is not constrained by an inability to consider decision horizon, as the number of future decision choices available influenced exploration behavior. Instead, age-related changes in decision-making strategy from adolescence to adulthood arise because of changes in the value assigned to immediate reward versus future utility of information.


The Purpose of Psychology Theories

Sean is a fact checker and researcher with experience in sociology and field research.

There are numerous psychological theories that are used to explain and predict a wide variety of behaviors. One of the first things that a new psychology student might notice is that there are a lot of theories to learn. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, Erikson’s psychosocial theory, the Big Five theory, and Bandura’s social learning theory are just a few examples that might spring to mind.

What exactly is the purpose of having so many psychological theories?


Examples of Developmental Tasks

All of these tasks are subject to change due to biological, psychological, and social influences. But Havighurst provided an example list of tasks that go with each stage of life. I’m just going to include a handful of tasks for each stage, although Havighurst listed many more in his work.

Developmental Tasks in the stage of Infancy and Early Childhood (0-6 years old) include:

  • Learning to walk
  • Learning to talk
  • Toilet training
  • Learning the foundations of reading

Developmental Tasks in the stage of Middle Childhood (6-12 years old) include :

  • Learning physical skills necessary for ordinary games
  • Learning to get along and play with children of the same age
  • Learning an appropriate masculine or feminine social role
  • Achieving personal independence

Developmental Tasks in the stage of Adolescence (13-18 years old) include:

  • Accepting one’s physical body as it goes through changes
  • Preparing for marriage and family life
  • Preparing for an economic career
  • Acquiring a set of values and an ethical system as a guide to behavior developing an ideology

Developmental Tasks in the stage of Early Adulthood (19-30 years old) include:

  • Finding a marriage partner (and learning to cohabitate with them)
  • Achieving a masculine or feminine social role
  • Managing a home and starting a family
  • Beginning a career
  • Taking on civic responsibility

Developmental Tasks in the stage of Middle Age (31-60 years old) include:

  • Achieving adult civic and social responsibility
  • Assisting teenage children to become responsible and happy adults
  • Developing adult leisure-time activities
  • Accepting and adjusting to the physiologic changes or middle age

Developmental Tasks in the stage of Later Maturity (61-death) include:

  • Adjusting to decreasing physical strength and health
  • Adjusting to retirement
  • Meeting social and civil obligations

Again, these tasks may look different for every individual. Civic and social responsibility, for example, may look different for every person, or may not be a priority at the age that Havighurst proposes. These tasks may serve as a guideline or a jumping-off point if you are thinking about your larger goals, but remember that they are influenced by different factors, including personal values.


The Purpose of Psychology Theories

Sean is a fact checker and researcher with experience in sociology and field research.

There are numerous psychological theories that are used to explain and predict a wide variety of behaviors. One of the first things that a new psychology student might notice is that there are a lot of theories to learn. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, Erikson’s psychosocial theory, the Big Five theory, and Bandura’s social learning theory are just a few examples that might spring to mind.

What exactly is the purpose of having so many psychological theories?


5 Theories of Child Development

Experts in medicine and science have marveled for decades over the ways in which children develop. This fascinating area of study continues to yield many questions: “What affects child development?”, “At which ages is development most susceptible to external effects”, “What all can be done to maximize child growth and minimize detriments to it?”, and many more like these. In response to such questions, many theories have abounded. The following five child development theories are among some of the most expertly recognized and utilized today.

1. Erikson’s Psychosocial Developmental Theory

Erik Erikson was an important figure in the fields of psychoanalytics and psychological development. He was also the famous coiner of the popular phrase “identity crisis”. Central to much of his work was his theory on psychosocial development. As it became known, Erikson’s Psychosocial Developmental Theory produced a framework for organizing human growth, through all stages of life, into eight distinct stages. Key to the outcomes of the child stages as well as those afterward are the principles of social interaction and experience.

2. Bowlby’s Attachment Theory

John Bowlby was another groundbreaking psychologist and theorist in matters of development. He also crafted one of the earliest known child development theories which still sees prominent use and citation today. In Bowlby’s Attachment Theory, he asserted that much of child development is based on the innate need of children to form attachments. These attachments may involve any number of people, places, or things and ultimately have a substantial effect on onward development patterns throughout life.

3. Freud’s Psychosexual Developmental Theory

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Sigmund Freud “may justly be called the most influential intellectual legislator of his age.” While creating the modern field of psychoanalytics, Freud also went on to make many other significant contributions to the sciences including the assertion of multiple, important theories. Freud’s Psychosexual Developmental Theory was one of these important products in which Freud explained that child experiences, experienced at different ages in childhood, directly go on to dictate personality and behavior patterns in the later adult. This general theory has since birthed virtually countless studies, disciplines, and other academic and business establishments.

4. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory is commonly relied upon today across many industries and professions. This theory states that while much child learning and development does come from direct experience, much also comes from modeling and simple observations. Bandura himself is another important and very pioneering figure in psychology who is currently the Professor Emeritus at Stanford University.

5. Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Theory

Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Theory states that children, quite simply, think differently than adults. While this may seem obvious to some, this was a revolutionary theory that went on to provide the foundations for several other theories to come. Essentially, this theory divided the child life into four separate categories, or stages, each of which carries its own important qualities and vulnerabilities. Jean Piaget, the theory’s author was a notable psychologist and scientist of his time.

The study of child development is a vastly important one that helps us today to understand the greater human development process itself. Just like in many other scientific disciplines, theories themselves are some of the critical pillars of the science and study of child development. These five above-mentioned theories are among some of the most pertinent in the field to date.


Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory

Erik Erikson: Psychosocial development.

Unlike Freud’s theory of psychosexual development which places great emphasis on sex, Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development focuses more on the choices that people make and the conflicts they face during the different stages of their life.

Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development has eight stages. Within each stage, there are different types of conflicts that an individual must resolve, and if they are unable to do so, they will struggle with those conflicts later in life.

The eight stages of psychosocial development are :

• Identity Vs Role Confusion

• Generativity Vs Self-Absorption

For each of these stages, the first attribute is considered to be a positive or desirable personality trait. For example, autonomy is a positive trait. The second attribute is considered to be a negative or undesirable trait. For example, isolation is a negative trait.

Throughout a person’s life, as they move from stage to stage, they must overcome the various challenges they face so that they can form the positive trait. If they are unable to do this, it will cause them problems later in life.

So basically, Erikson’s theory is about the challenges we face in life, and whether or not we are able to overcome those challenges to form certain desirable (positive) traits.

Let’s explore each of these eight stages of psychosocial development in more detail.

Trust vs Mistrust (birth – 2 years old)

Trust is something that must be earned.

Trust vs. mistrust is a stage associated with infancy, and lasts until we are two years of age. If an infant develops a sense of trust as a result of being looked after, attended to and loved by its parents, then that infant will be happy and in good health.

However, if the infant develops a sense of mistrust as a result of being neglected or treated poorly by its parents, they will display a lack of interest in their surroundings and have poor health. These are characteristics associated with infantile depression, which may then result in adult depression later in life.

So overall, this stage can be summarized by saying that if the infant is looked after well (develops trust) it will be happy and healthy. But if the infant is looked after poorly (develops mistrust) it will be depressed and unhealthy.

Autonomy vs Shame and doubt (2-3 years old)

She is ready to explore the world.

The stage of autonomy vs. shame and doubt occurs during year’s two to three (toddlerhood).

A toddler with a sense of autonomy will be interested in exploring their surroundings, and will constantly be looking for new things to stimulate (mentally) themselves with. They will tend to perform this exploration by themselves, and as a result, may appear to wander off randomly or try to escape from their parents somehow to explore new surroundings.

A toddler with a sense of shame and doubt will tend to do the opposite. They will be more withdrawn, appear to lack confidence and not venture too far into areas that they have not been before.

So this stage can be summarized by saying that a child with autonomy likes to explore new things, whereas a child with shame and doubt does not. One is confident, the other isn’t.

Initiative vs Guilt (3-6 years old)

“…almost finished.”

The initiative vs. guilt stage occurs during years three to six (preschool children).

A preschooler with a sense of initiative will tend to complete tasks that they start. For example, if they start to draw a picture they will keep drawing until they finish it. A preschooler with a sense of guilt will tend not to seek challenges, and tends to hold back expressing who they are and what they would like to do.

This stage can be summarized by saying that a preschooler with initiative expresses who they are, whereas a preschooler with guilt does not.

Industry vs Inferiority (6-12 years old)

With age we start to take on more responsibility.

Industry vs. inferiority is associated with children aged six to twelve years old. Children with a sense of industry show an interest in school work, tasks they are given at home and display a responsible attitude.

Children with a sense of inferiority will tend to display the opposite type of behavior, such as being uninterested in school work or tasks they are given, because they feel that they are not good enough to complete those tasks successfully. This sense of inferiority can become further entrenched if that child is criticized by their parents or other people.

So we can summarize this stage by saying that a child with a sense of industry is one who is interested in challenges and enjoys responsibility, being somewhat confident in their abilities to complete the tasks that they are given.

Children with a sense of inferiority however, do not like responsibility or being given tasks to complete. They feel that if they are given these tasks, or given responsibility, that they won’t be able to complete them very well and so will be criticized as a result.

Identity vs Role confusion (12-18 years old)

We must each learn to express the person we are.

The identity vs. role confusion stage is associated with adolescence, with includes years twelve to eighteen.

An adolescent with a sense of identity will feel as though they know where they are going in life, or at least what they would like to be when they are older. As a result, they go throughout adolescence with that goal in mind, and tend to have a high level of self-esteem because their life has direction and a sense of purpose.

Adolescents with a sense of role confusion feel as though they have no direction or purpose in life, and feel unsure as to what the future holds for them. They are unlikely to have any long-term goals, and their behavior could best be described as drifting aimlessly through life. They are also likely to have low self-esteem.

So in summary, an adolescent with a sense of identity knows what they want to be when they are older. Whereas an adolescent with a sense of role confusion, is uncertain as to what they will be or do when they are older.

Intimacy vs Isolation (18 onwards)

The world is a much better place when you have someone special to share it with.

The intimacy vs. isolation stage is associated with early adulthood, and tends to begin at age eighteen when adolescence ends. However, it is important to note that the stage of adulthood may be delayed somewhat, until the adolescent is able to form a sense of identity (i.e. they know what they want to do with their life).

As a result, an “adult” (someone aged over 18) may not technically enter adulthood even if they are in their twenties, thirties or older. Unless they are able to form a sense of identity, they will feel as though they are somewhat trapped in adolescence (like they have never really matured fully from school).

An adult who is capable of intimacy will tend to form close bonds with people, such as by forming friends and having romantic relationships with members of the opposite sex, eventually, leading to marriage.

An adult with a sense of isolation finds it difficult to form relationships with people, and is unable to understand what other people are thinking or feeling. As a result they spend most of the time by themselves, with little or no friends.

This stage can be summarized by saying that an adult with intimacy can form close relationships with people, whereas an adult with isolation cannot.

Generativity vs Self-absorption (adult)

Caring for others makes us human.

An adult with the trait of generativity is capable of productive work, which they usually undertake for several years. This trait is also linked to helping others in some way, for example, a mother who looks after her children. An adult with a trait of self-absorption is more concerned with themselves rather than other people.

This stage can be summarized by saying that a person with generativity likes to give something to others, whereas a person with the trait of self-absorption likes to take things from others.

Integrity vs Despair (old age)

Things start to look different once you reach a certain age.

The stage of integrity vs. despair is associated with old age.

A person with a trait of integrity can face death with peace of mind, because they know that their life has been lived to the fullest and that they have achieved the things they wanted to do in life.

A person with a trait of despair feels a sense of desperation as their life draws to a close, because they feel that they have wasted it and not been able to do the things they hoped to do.

In summary, a person with integrity can accept death, but a person with despair wishes for a second chance and for more time before they die.


Particularly Exciting Experiments in Psychology

Adolescence is an important developmental stage, characterized by marked biological and physiological changes.

Behaviorally, adolescence is associated with volatile emotions and boundary-testing behavior as individuals explore and assert personal identity, learn to navigate peer relationships, and transition to independence.

The strongest stereotypes of adolescence are portrayed in countless television shows and movies: the emergence of sexual interest and behavior, and decision-making dilemmas. These behaviors are studied in two recent papers.

Moadab and colleagues (2017, Behavioral Neuroscience) (PDF, 307KB) examine how early amygdala and hippocampus damage influence social behavior in adolescent female rhesus macaques. This is a continuation of their longitudinal analysis of affective and social behavior in rhesus macaques who received lesions at two weeks of age and were then socially housed (see Article Spotlight: Early Damage to the Amygdala or Hippocampus Has Subtle Effects on Adult Social Behavior).

In this study, social groups consisting of one adult male, one amygdala-lesioned female, one hippocampus-lesioned female, and one control female were formed when females reached the beginning of sexual maturity (approximately 4 years old). Observations during the first month of group formation revealed that while control and hippocampus-lesioned females interacted with the male in predicted ways, amygdala-lesioned females spent less time interacting with the male, and displayed fewer behaviors that signal sexual or reproductive interest (e.g., contact, proximity, reciprocal grooming).

This could be due to either an influence of amygdala damage on hormonal function, which would influence mating-relevant social behaviors, or to the fact that amygdala damage influenced dominance status (all but one of the amygdala-damaged females had the lowest social ranking), which would give these animals less access to the male.

Moadab et al. examine the contribution of the amygdala to the development of typical social behavior as animals reach sexual maturity. As teen dramas routinely remind us, sexual development is often coupled with decision dilemmas that entail an assessment of risk.

Somerville and colleagues (2017, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General) (PDF, 315KB) had participants aged 12–28 play one-armed bandit games in which two choices that differed in average reward magnitude were presented. Each game began with four fixed choices (made by the computer). In some games, the fixed choices were evenly distributed between the two choices, so participants had the same amount of information about each choice. In other games, the fixed choices were unevenly distributed (one choice selected once, the other selected three times). The dependent variable was the choice participants made on their first free choice.

Although overall levels of exploration did not vary with age, the strategic use of exploration differed from adolescence to adulthood, particularly in cases where one bandit had a higher reward value, and the other contained higher information value (i.e. fewer previous payouts displayed during fixed choices).

When there was only one free choice in the game, all participants generally exploited the high reward option. However, in games where participants would ultimately make six free choices, increasing age was related to an increased tendency to explore, reflected in a tendency to choose the lower value, higher information option.

These results suggest that decision-making in adolescence is not constrained by an inability to consider decision horizon, as the number of future decision choices available influenced exploration behavior. Instead, age-related changes in decision-making strategy from adolescence to adulthood arise because of changes in the value assigned to immediate reward versus future utility of information.


Child/Adolescent Development of Prosocial Behavior

The following is an excerpt from “More about Generosity: An Addendum to the Generosity, Social Psychology and Philanthropy Literature Reviews,” (University of Notre Dame, July 7, 2009).

Barr, Jason J., and Ann Higgin-D’Alessandro. 2007. “Adolescent empathy and prosocial behavior in the multidimensional context of school culture.” Journal of Genetic Psychology 168(3):231-250.

The authors investigated whether students’ positive perceptions of their high school’s culture were associated with higher levels of empathy and prosocial behavior. The authors collected information from 2 samples to ensure a wide range of school culture perceptions. As expected, empathy and prosocial behavior were correlated. As evidence of the validity of the measure of school culture, students in a small alternative school perceived their school culture as more positive than did students in the companion large, traditional high school. More positive perceptions of school culture were associated with higher levels of empathy but not with prosocial behavior. Results were moderated by gender but not by age. Male students with higher levels of emotional concern (one aspect of empathy) perceived peer relationships (one aspect of school culture) to be more positive than did those with lower levels of emotional concern. This study highlights the importance of using multidimensional constructs for school culture and empathy to understand the effects of schooling on youth.

Barry, Carolyn McNamara, Laura M. Padilla-Walker, Stephanie J. Madsen, and Larry J. Nelson. 2008. “The impact of maternal relationship quality on emerging adults’ prosocial tendencies: Indirect effects via regulation of prosocial values.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 37(5):581-591.

Studies document that parents serve as children’s primary socialization agents, particularly for moral development and prosocial behavior however, less is known regarding parental influences on prosocial outcomes during the transition to adulthood. The purpose of this study was to investigate how mother-child relationship quality was related to prosocial tendencies via emerging adults’ regulation of prosocial values. Participants included 228 undergraduate students (ranging from 18 to 25 years 90% European American) and their mothers (ranging from 38 to 59 years) from four locations across the United States. Path analyses using structural equation modeling revealed that mother-child relationship quality was related to emerging adults’ regulation of prosocial values, which was, in turn, related to emerging adults’ prosocial tendencies. Specifically, emerging adults who reported higher levels of internal regulation of prosocial values were more likely to report prosocial tendencies that de-emphasized themselves, and were less likely to report prosocial tendencies for the approval of others.

Carlo, Gustavo, Meredith McGinley, Rachel Hayes, Candice Batenhorst, and Jamie Wilkinson. 2007. “Parenting styles or practices? Parenting, sympathy, and prosocial behaviors among adolescents.” Journal of Genetic Psychology 168(2):147-176.

In the present study, the authors examined the relations among parenting styles, parental practices, sympathy, and prosocial behaviors in adolescents. The participants were 233 adolescents (M age = 16.7 years 69% girls mostly White) from public high schools in the Midwestern region of the United States who completed measures of prosocial behaviors, parenting styles, parenting practices, and sympathy. Overall, the authors found evidence that parenting practices were significantly associated with adolescents’ prosocial behaviors. However, the associations between parenting practices and prosocial behaviors occurred mostly through the indirect relations with sympathy. The relations among parenting practices, sympathy, and prosocial behaviors varied as a function of the specific parenting practice and the specific prosocial behavior. Implications for future research on the study of prosocial development and parenting among adolescents are discussed.

Culotta, Carmen M., and Sara E. Goldstein. 2008. “Adolescents’ aggressive and prosocial behavior: Associations with jealousy and social anxiety.” Journal of Genetic Psychology, 169(1):21-33.

The authors examined how relational aggression, physical aggression, and proactive prosocial behavior were associated with jealousy and social anxiety in a diverse sample of 60 middle school students. After the authors controlled for gender and race, jealousy predicted relational aggression and proactive prosocial behavior, but it did not predict physical aggression. Additionally, social anxiety predicted proactive prosocial behavior. Adolescents who were more jealous in their peer relationships also tended to engage in relational aggression and proactive prosocial behavior, and adolescents who were more socially anxious also tended to be proactively prosocial. The authors discuss the implications of these findings and suggest directions for future research.

Dunsmore, J., I. Bradburn, P. Costanzo, and B.L. Fredrickson. 2009. “Mothers’ expressive style and emotional responses to children’s behavior predict children’s prosocial and achievement-related self-ratings.” International Journal of Behavioral Development 33(3):253-264.

In this study we investigated whether mothers’ typical expressive style and specific emotional responses to children’s behaviors are linked to children’s prosocial and competence self-ratings. Eight-to 12-year-old children and their mothers rated how mothers had felt when children behaved pro-socially and antisocially, achieved and failed to achieve. Children rated self-descriptiveness of prosocial and achievement-related traits. Mothers’ positive expressiveness was associated with children’s higher achievement-related self-ratings. Mothers’ positive- and negative-dominant expressiveness was associated with children’s lower prosocial self-ratings. Mothers’ happiness about both children’s prosocial and achievement-related behavior was associated with children’s higher self-ratings for both domains. Mothers’ anger about children’s antisocial behavior was related to children’s lower self-ratings for both domains. When mothers were higher in negative-submissive expressiveness, and responded with more sadness to children’s failure to achieve, children reported lower achievement self-ratings. Results support the importance of multidimensional assessment of self-concept and suggest that parents’ typical expressive style moderates the influence of parents’ specific emotional responses on children’s self-ratings.

Ellis, Wendy E., and Lynne Zarbatany. 2007. “Peer group status as a moderator of group influence on children’s deviant, aggressive, and prosocial behavior.” Child Development 78(4):1240-1254.

Group status was examined as a moderator of peer group socialization of deviant, aggressive, and prosocial behavior. In the fall and 3 months later, preadolescents and early adolescents provided self-reported scores for deviant behavior and group membership, and peer nominations for overt and relational aggression, prosocial behavior, and social preference. Using the social cognitive map, 116 groups were identified involving 526 children (282 girls M age=12.05). Hierarchical linear modeling revealed that high group centrality (visibility) magnified group socialization of relational aggression, deviant behavior, and prosocial behavior, and low group acceptance magnified socialization of deviant behavior. Results suggest group influence on behavior is not uniform but depends on group status, especially group visibility within the larger peer context.

Fehr, Ernst, Helen Bernhard and Bettina Rockenbach. 2008. “Egalitarianism in young children.” Nature 454:1079-1083.

Human social interaction is strongly shaped by other-regarding preferences, that is, a concern for the welfare of others. These preferences are important for a unique aspect of human sociality—large scale cooperation with genetic strangers—but little is known about their developmental roots. Here we show that young children’s other-regarding preferences assume a particular form, inequality aversion that develops strongly between the ages of 3 and 8. At age 3–4, the overwhelming majority of children behave selfishly, whereas most children at age 7–8 prefer resource allocations that remove advantageous or disadvantageous inequality. Moreover, inequality aversion is strongly shaped by parochialism, a preference for favouring the members of one’s own social group. These results indicate that human egalitarianism and parochialism have deep developmental roots, and the simultaneous emergence of altruistic sharing and parochialism during childhood is intriguing in view of recent evolutionary theories which predict that the same evolutionary process jointly drives both human altruism and parochialism.

Fujisawa, Keiko K., Nobuyuki Kutsukake, and Toshikazu Hasegawa. 2008. “Reciprocity of prosocial behavior in Japanese preschool children.” International Journal of Behavioral Development 32(2):89-97.

This study investigated the reciprocity of prosocial behavior among 3-and 4-year-old Japanese preschool children during free-play time. Matrix correlation tests revealed positive correlations between the frequencies of object offering given and received within dyads and between the frequencies of helping given and received within dyads. These results suggest that young children reciprocate prosocial behavior spontaneously. Positive correlations were also found between the frequencies of object offering and helping behavior exchanged within dyads, suggesting that children exchanged the two types of prosocial behaviors (i.e., “interchanged”). The interchange was independent of both reciprocity within object offering and reciprocity within helping behavior in 4-year-olds. Friends reciprocated object offerings more frequently than non-friends, suggesting that friendship affects the quantitative aspect of reciprocity. These data provide refined evidence of reciprocity among children and also suggest that reciprocity becomes more complicated as children grow older.

Hastings, Paul D., Kelly E. McShane, Richard Parker, and Farriola Ladha. 2007. “Ready to make nice: parental socialization of young sons’ and daughters’ prosocial behaviors with peers.” Journal of Genetic Psychology 168(2):177-200.

In this study, the authors examined the extent to which maternal and paternal parenting styles, cognitions, and behaviors were associated with young girls’ and boys’ more compassionate (prototypically feminine) and more agentic (prototypically masculine) prosocial behaviors with peers. Parents of 133 preschool-aged children reported on their authoritative parenting style, attributions for children’s prosocial behavior, and responses to children’s prosocial behavior. Approximately 6 months later, children’s more feminine and more masculine prosocial behaviors were observed during interactions with unfamiliar peers and reported on by their preschool teachers. Boys and girls did not differ in the observed and teacher-reported measures of prosocial behavior. Compared to other parents, fathers of boys were less likely to express affection or respond directly to children’s prosocial behavior. Mothers’ authoritative style, internal attributions for prosocial behavior, and positive responses to prosocial behavior predicted girls’ displays of more feminine prosocial actions and boys’ displays of more masculine prosocial actions toward peers. Relations were similar but weaker for fathers’ parenting, and after accounting for mother’ scores, fathers’ scores accounted for unique variance in only one analysis: Teachers reported more masculine prosocial behavior in boys of fathers who discussed prosocial behavior. Overall, the results support a model of parental socialization of sex-typed prosocial behavior and indicate that mothers contribute more strongly than do fathers to both daughters’ and sons’ prosocial development.

Hur, Yoon-Mi, and J Philippe Rushton. 2007. “Genetic and environmental contributions to prosocial behaviour in 2- to 9-year-old South Korean twins.” Biology Letters 3(6):664-666.

Although over 50 twin and adoption studies have been performed on the genetic architecture of antisocial behaviour, far fewer studies have investigated prosocial behaviour, and none have done so on a non-western population. The present study examined mothers’ ratings of prosocial behaviour in 514 pairs of 2- to 9-year-old South Korean monozygotic and dizygotic twins. Correlational analyses showed a tendency of increasing genetic effects and decreasing shared environmental effects with age although shared family environment effects and the moderating effects of age did not attain statistical significance in model-fitting analyses. The best-fitting model indicated that 55% (95% CI: 45-64%) of the variance in the 2- to 9-year-olds’ prosocial behaviour was due to genetic factors and 45% (95% CI: 36-55%) was due to non-shared environmental factors. It is concluded that genetic and environmental influences on prosocial behaviour in young South Koreans are mostly similar to those in western samples.

Ma, H.K., P.C. Cheun, and D.T.L. Shek. 2007. “The relation of prosocial orientation to peer interactions, family social environment and personality of Chinese adolescents.” International Journal of Behavioral Development 31(1):12-18.

This study investigated the relation of peer interactions, family social environment and personality to prosocial orientation in Chinese adolescents. The results indicated no sex differences in general prosocial orientation and inclination to help others, but sex differences in inclination to maintain an affective relationship and inclination to co-operate and share with others. In general, prosocial orientation was associated negatively with peer negative influence and peer delinquent behavior, and positively with peer positive influence. Prosocial orientation was associated with positive family social environment. In addition, prosocial orientation was associated negatively with psychoticism and neuroticism, but positively with social desirability. The findings suggested that positive peer interactions, good family social environment and positive personality tended to increase the prosocial orientation of adolescents. From the perspective of the theory of planned behavior, the present findings in prosocial orientation were in line with similar findings in prosocial behavior in previous studies. Uses of the construct of prosocial orientation and implications of its correlates were discussed.

Malti, Tina, Michaela Gummerum, Monika Keller, Marlis Buchmann. 2009. “Children’s moral motivation, sympathy, and prosocial behavior.” Child Development 80(2):442-460.

Two studies investigated the role of children’s moral motivation and sympathy in prosocial behavior. Study 1 measured other-reported prosocial behavior and self- and other-reported sympathy. Moral motivation was assessed by emotion attributions and moral reasoning following hypothetical transgressions in a representative longitudinal sample of Swiss 6-year-old children (N = 1,273). Prosocial behavior increased with increasing sympathy, especially if children displayed low moral motivation. Moral motivation and sympathy were also independently related to prosocial behavior. Study 2 extended the findings of Study 1 with a second longitudinal sample of Swiss 6-year-old children (N = 175) using supplementary measures of prosocial behavior, sympathy, and moral motivation. The results are discussed in regard to the precursors of the moral self in childhood.

Martin, Don, Magy Martin, Suzanne Semivan Gibson, and Jonathan Wilkins. 2007. “Increasing prosocial behavior and academic achievement among adolescent African American males.” Adolescence 42(168):689-698.

African American adolescents disproportionately perform poorly compared to peers in both behavioral and academic aspects of their educational experience. In this study, African American male students participated in an after-school program involving tutoring, group counseling, and various enrichment activities. All students were assessed regarding their behavioral changes using attendance, discipline referrals, suspensions, and expulsions reports. The Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test ( KBIT ) and the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement ( KTEA ) were used to assess the adolescents’ improvement in their skills in reading and mathematics. After the end of the two-year program, initial results showed that the adolescents had increased their daily attendance, decreased discipline referrals, and had no suspensions or expulsions. These results also indicated that although the students entered the program at different skill levels, they were assessed to have the ability to function at their appropriate grade level. Their average improvement in basic skills was at least two grade levels. Implications drawn from the findings include: (a) there is a need to emphasize appropriate assessment prior to beginning a skill improvement program (b) a need to emphasize the use of individualized learning plans and tutors and © a need to further investigate the role of assessment and intervention in after-school programming in order to close the achievement gap.

McGrath, Marianne P., and Bethany C. Brown. 2008. “Developmental differences in prosocial motives and behavior in children from low-socioeconomic status families.” Journal of Genetic Psychology 169:5-20.

Developmental theories of prosocial reasoning and behavior posit a transition from concrete (e.g., give a toy to receive one) to abstract (e.g., spend time to make someone happy) forms and have been supported with research on middle-socioeconomic status ( SES ), White samples. The methodology that researchers have used to date has restricted the responses that children can offer. In the present study, 122 Grade 2 and Grade 4 children from low- SES families described different types of motives and behavior and whether a conflict existed between self- and other-serving behaviors. The authors found developmental differences for both abstract and tangible motives that focused on the benefactor of prosocial behavior. Grade 2 girls and Grade 4 boys were the most likely to spontaneously describe a conflict between self- and other-serving behaviors.

Michalik, Nicole M., Nancy Eisenberg, Tracy L. Spinrad, Becky Ladd, Marilyn Thompson, and Carlos Valinte. “Longitudinal Relations Among Parental Emotional Expressivity and Sympathy and Prosocial Behavior in Adolescence.” Social Development 16:286-309.

Concurrent and longitudinal relations among parental emotional expressivity, children’s sympathy and children’s prosocial behavior were assessed with correlations and structural equation modeling when the children were 55–97 months old (N = 214 M age = 73 months, SD = 9.59) and eight years later (N = 130 ages 150–195 months old, M = 171 months, SD = 10.01). Parent emotional expressivity (positive and negative) and children’s sympathy were stable across time and early parent-reported sympathy predicted adolescents’ sympathy and prosocial behavior. Parents’ positive expressivity was positively related to sympathy and prosocial behavior, but in adolescence, this was likely primarily because of consistency over time. Early observed parental negative expressivity was negatively related to adolescents’ prosocial behavior. Reported negative expressivity in childhood was negatively related to boys’ sympathy in childhood and positively related to girls’ sympathy behavior in adolescence. The later relation remained significant when controlling for the stability of parental expressivity and sympathy, suggesting an emerging positive relation between the variables for girls.

Nantel-Vivier, Amelie Katja Kokko, Gian Vittorio Caprara, Concetta Pastorelli, Maria Grazia Gerbino, Marinella Paciello, Sylvana Cote, Robert O. Pihl, Frank Vitaro, and Richard E. Tremblay. 2009. “Prosocial development from childhood to adolescence: A multi-informant perspective with Canadian and Italian longitudinal studies. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 50:590-598.

Objectives: To longitudinally describe prosocial behaviour development from childhood to adolescence, using multiple informants within Canadian and Italian samples. Method: Participants in Study 1 were 1037 boys from low socioeconomic status ( SES ) areas in Montreal, Canada, for whom yearly teacher and mother reports were obtained between the ages of 10 and 15. Participants in Study 2 were 472 children (209 girls) from Genzano, Italy, for whom yearly self and teacher reports were obtained between the ages of 10 and 14. Developmental trajectories were estimated from ratings by each informant to identify subgroups of children following distinct courses of prosocial development. Results: In Study 1, three trajectory groups (low/declining 53%, high/declining 16%, high/steep declining 31%) were identified from teacher ratings, while five trajectories (low/stable 7%, low/declining 19%, moderate/stable 41%, high/declining 24%, high/stable 9%) were identified from mother ratings. Small but significant associations were observed between mother and teacher ratings. In Study 2, three trajectory groups (low/stable 9%, moderate/stable 50%, high/stable 42%) were identified from self-ratings, while four trajectory groups (low/stable 8%, moderate/declining 48%, high/declining 37%, increasing 7%) were identified from teacher ratings. Small but significant associations were observed between self- and teacher ratings. Conclusions: The present studies investigated levels of prosocial behaviours from childhood to adolescence, using a multi-informant, cross-cultural perspective. All but one of the developmental trajectories identified were characterised by stable or declining levels of prosocial behaviours. Further research longitudinally investigating prosociality across developmental periods is needed to clarify prosocial behaviour development over time

Olson, Kristina R., and Elizabeth S. Spelke. 2008. “Foundations of cooperation in young children.” Cognition 108: 222-231.

Observations and experiments show that human adults preferentially share resources with close relations, with people who have shared with them (reciprocity), and with people who have shared with others (indirect reciprocity). These tendencies are consistent with evolutionary theory but could also reflect the shaping effects of experience or instruction in complex, cooperative, and competitive societies. Here, we report evidence for these three tendencies in 3.5-year-old children, despite their limited experience with complex cooperative networks. Three pillars of mature cooperative behavior therefore appear to have roots extending deep into human development.

Trommsdorff, G., W. Friedlmeier, and B. Mayer. 2007. “Sympathy, distress, and prosocial behavior of preschool children in four cultures.” International Journal of Behavioral Development 31:284-293.

This study examined emotional responding (sympathy and distress) and prosocial behavior as well as their relations across four cultures in a specific context. Preschool children ( N = 212) from two Western cultures, Germany and Israel, and two South-East Asian cultures, Indonesia and Malaysia, participated in this study. Children’s emotional reactions and prosocial behavior were observed when interacting with an adult in a quasi-experimental situation. Results showed that children from the two South-East Asian cultures, as compared to children from the two Western cultures, displayed more self-focused distress and less prosocial behavior. Across cultures, a positive relation between sympathy and prosocial behavior and a negative relation between self-focused distress and prosocial behavior were found. The strengths of these relations were moderated by culture. These results are discussed with regard to their cultural meaning in the specific experimental situation as well as to general culture-specific characteristics.

Vaish, Amrisha, Malinda Carpenter, and Michael Tomasello. 2009. “Sympathy through affective perspective taking and its relation to prosocial behavior in toddlers.” Developmental Psychology 45:534-543.

In most research on the early ontogeny of sympathy, young children are presented with an overtly distressed person and their responses are observed. In the current study, the authors asked whether young children could also sympathize with a person to whom something negative had happened but who was expressing no emotion at all. They showed 18- and 25-month-olds an adult either harming another adult by destroying or taking away her possessions (harm condition) or else doing something similar that did not harm her (neutral condition). The “victim” expressed no emotions in either condition. Nevertheless, in the harm as compared with the neutral condition, children showed more concern and subsequent prosocial behavior toward the victim. Moreover, children’s concerned looks during the harmful event were positively correlated with their subsequent prosocial behavior. Very young children can sympathize with a victim even in the absence of overt emotional signals, possibly by some form of affective perspective taking.

Van de Vliert, Evert, Gerben S. Van der Vegt, Onne Janssen. 2009. “Prosocial to Egoistic Enculturation of Our Children: A Climato-Economic Contextualization.” Negotiation and Conflict Management Research 2:123-137.

Are altruistic, cooperative, apathetic, and egoistic cultures passed on from generation to generation in nongenetic ways? A society-level analysis of data from the most recent World Values Surveys showed that adults in increasingly demanding cold or hot climates value cooperative enculturation of children to the extent that their society is richer, but egoistic enculturation to the extent that their society is poorer. These results refine the climatic demands–resources theory of prosociality, which posits that (a) humans in more demanding—colder or hotter—climates find it more difficult to satisfy homeostatic needs for thermal comfort, nutrition, and health (b) increasingly demanding climates matched by wealth-based resources and availability of homeostatic goods produce more prosocial cultures and © increasingly demanding climates unmatched by wealth-based resources and availability of homeostatic goods produce less prosocial cultures.

Veenstra, R., S. Lindenberg, A.J. Oldehinkel, A.F. DeWinter, F.C. Verhulst, and J. Ormel. 2008. “Prosocial and antisocial behavior in preadolescence: Teachers’ and parents’ perceptions of the behavior of girls and boys.” Journal of Behavioral Development 32:243-251.

There has been recent emphasis on the importance of investigating prosocial and antisocial behavior simultaneously owing to doubts about whether examining one automatically gives information about the other. However, there has been little empirical research into this question. The present study (based on a large population sample of preadolescents, N = 2,230) simultaneously examines prosocial and antisocial behavior, explicitly including the possibility that children might show prosocial behavior according to one informant and antisocial behavior according to another. When parents and teachers agreed in their judgments, children were distinctly profiled and differed clearly in effortful control, intelligence, academic performance, and several peer nominations and family characteristics. The correlates were more rater-specific for children that were prosocial according to one informant and antisocial according to the other informant. Teachers and parents used different context-dependent criteria for judging children to be prosocial or antisocial. Academic performance and peer relations were related to the teacher’s judgment of prosocial and antisocial behavior. By contrast, children’s being problematic at home (and thus causing stress for the parents) was related to the parents’ judgment.

Wentzel, Kathryn R., Laurence Filisetti, and Lisa Looey. 2007. “Adolescent prosocial behavior: the role of self-processes and contextual cues.” Child Development 78:895-910.

Peer- and teacher-reported prosocial behavior of 339 6th-grade (11-12 years) and 8th-grade (13-14 years) students was examined in relation to prosocial goals, self-processes (reasons for behavior, empathy, perspective taking, depressive affect, perceived competence), and contextual cues (expectations of peers and teachers). Goal pursuit significantly predicted prosocial behavior, and goal pursuit provided a pathway by which reasons for behavior were related to behavior. Reasons reflected external, other-focused, self-focused, and internal justifications for behavior each reason was related to a unique set of self-processes and contextual cues. Associations between prosocial outcomes and sex and race (Caucasian and African American) were mediated in part by self-processes and contextual cues. The implications of studying prosocial behavior from a motivational perspective are discussed.


Extended Adolescence: When 25 Is the New 18

Especially now, with society&rsquos deepest depravities freely available online, youngsters seem to grow up quickly: barreling toward adulthood, iPhone in hand, while they Snap Chat racy photos along the way.

But new research suggests otherwise.

An analysis by researchers at San Diego State University and Bryn Mawr College reports that today&rsquos teenagers are less likely to engage in adult activities like having sex and drinking alcohol than teens from older generations.

The review, published today in the journal Child Development, looked at data from seven national surveys conducted between 1976 and 2016, including those issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. Together, the surveys included over eight million 13- to 19-year-olds from varying racial, economic and regional backgrounds. Participants were asked a variety of questions about how the they spent their time outside of school and responses were tracked over time.

Beyond just a drop in alcohol use and sexual activity, the study authors found that since around 2000, teens have become considerably less likely to drive, have an after-school job and date. By the early 2010s, it also appeared that 12th graders were going out far less frequently than 8th graders did in the 1990s. In 1991 54 percent of high schoolers reported having had sex at least once in 2015 the number was down to 41 percent. What&rsquos more, the decline in adult activity was consistent across all populations, and not influenced by race, gender or location. &ldquoI&rsquove seen so many articles in which experts said they didn&rsquot know why the teen pregnancy rate was going down or opining that teens were behaving in a more virtuous way&hellipor that they were lazy because fewer were working,&rdquo recalls Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State and the lead author on the study. &ldquoOur results show that it&rsquos probably not that today&rsquos teens are more virtuous, or more lazy&mdashit&rsquos just that they&rsquore less likely to do adult things.&rdquo She adds that in terms of adult behaviors, 18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds of the past.

Twenge and her co-author, Heejung Park, assistant professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College, initially thought the findings meant teens today are doing more homework or engaged in more extracurricular activities. Yet their data suggest the frequency of these activities has been stable for years, if not on a slight decline.

The fact teens (not unlike many adults) are glued to their computers and smartphones for much of the day may have contributed to the results the authors suggest. Perhaps their socializing and more salacious interests have simply gone digital via texting, sexting and online pornography. (Today&rsquos teens watch more porn than their predecessors.) Yet virtual vice isn&rsquot the whole story because the dip in adult activities began before internet usage became common.

The more likely explanation for this new extended adolescence its relationship to affluence. The analysis found adolescents were more likely to take part in adult activities if they came from larger families or those with lower incomes. This mirrors so-called &ldquolife history theory,&rdquo the idea exposure to an unpredictable, impoverished environment as a kid leads to faster development whereas children who grow up in a stable environment with more resources tend to have a slower developmental course.

In families with means there is often more anticipation of years of schooling and career before one necessarily has to &ldquogrow up&rdquo&mdashthere&rsquos plenty of time for that later. As Twenge and Park conclude, despite growing income disparities, a significant percentage of the U.S. population has on average become more affluent over the past few decades and are living longer. As a result, people are waiting longer to get married and have children. We&rsquore also seeing a higher parental investment in fewer children&mdashor, in the parlance of our times, more &ldquohelicopter parenting.&rdquo

This concept of extended adolescence is not new. It was first made famous by psychologist Erik Erikson, who in his theory on the different stages of human development termed this stage a &ldquopsychosocial moratorium.&rdquo Yet many child psychologists believe today&rsquos children seem to be idling in this hiatus period more so than ever before. &ldquoI'm keenly aware of the shift, as I often see adolescents presenting with some of the same complaints as college graduates,&rdquo says Columbia University psychiatrist Mirjana Domakonda, who was not involved in the new study. &ldquoTwenty-five is the new 18, and delayed adolescence is no longer a theory, but a reality. In some ways, we&rsquore all in a &lsquopsychosocial moratorium,&rsquo experimenting with a society where swipes constitute dating and likes are the equivalent of conversation.&rdquo

Some experts caution against reading too much into the new findings, because asking a bunch of teenagers to accurately recount their behavior has its obvious statistical flaws. &ldquoThe new work highlights how vital it is to do careful, methodologically rigorous research,&rdquo says Robert Findling, director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medicine who also did not take part in the new research. &ldquoWorking from impressions, opinions or individual experiences can lead to spurious conclusions.&rdquo

But presuming some degree of truth to the new findings, what might postponing adulthood mean for society? Are we headed toward a culture of helpless, coddled teenagers unwilling to work? Or given that we&rsquore living so much longer than past generations, maybe there&rsquos nothing wrong with a few extra years of innocence? Twenge sees both upsides and downsides: &ldquoIt's great to protect young teens, but parents should realize that older teens need some experience with independence before they go to college or start working.&rdquo

Domakonda adds that although parents can play a role in indulging extended youth, they are not the root cause. &ldquoMost are responding to their own anxieties about the new norm,&rdquo she says. &ldquoThey recognize that now, in order for their children to succeed, they can&rsquot simply get a job at the local factory, but may be faced with 10-plus years of postgraduate education and crippling student debt.&rdquo

She feels that instead of pushing young adults to mature faster, we should embrace the cultural shift and develop ways to both meet the psychological needs of modern teens while also setting them up for future success. Domakonda suggests one such strategy might be expanding mental health services for adolescents, particularly because 75 percent of major mental illnesses emerge by the mid-20s. She also feels we should stop arbitrarily defining 18 as the age of adulthood and recognize that psychosocial development occurs differently in different people. &ldquoResearchers need to recognize that emerging adults are a unique developmental cohort and stop lumping them in the 18- to 65-year-old category for studies of adults,&rdquo she says. &ldquoThat will help us learn about their specific needs so we may develop targeted prevention and treatment strategies [for mental illness]

Time will tell how extended adolescence influences American culture and character. But in the words of basketball legend Charles Barkley, there is one clear upside: &ldquoKids are great. It&rsquos a shame they have to grow up to be regular people and come to the games and call you names.&rdquo

Note: This story was updated to correct Mirjana Domakonda's job title.


Identity Development in Adolescence and Adulthood

Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson was the first professional to describe and use the concept of ego identity in his writings on what constitutes healthy personality development for every individual over the course of the life span. Basic to Erikson’s view, as well as those of many later identity writers, is the understanding that identity enables one to move with purpose and direction in life, and with a sense of inner sameness and continuity over time and place. Erikson considered identity to be psychosocial in nature, formed by the intersection of individual biological and psychological capacities in combination with the opportunities and supports offered by one’s social context. Identity normally becomes a central issue of concern during adolescence, when decisions about future vocational, ideological, and relational issues need to be addressed however, these key identity concerns often demand further reflection and revision during different phases of adult life as well. Identity, thus, is not something that one resolves once and for all at the end of adolescence, but rather identity may continue to evolve and change over the course of adult life too.

Following Erikson’s initial writings, subsequent theorists have laid different emphases on the role of the individual and the role of society in the identity formation process. One very popular elaboration of Erikson’s own writings on identity that retains a psychosocial focus is the identity status model of James Marcia. While Erikson had described one’s identity resolution as lying somewhere on a continuum between identity achievement and role confusion (and optimally located nearer the achievement end of the spectrum), Marcia defined four very different means by which one may approach identity-defining decisions: identity achievement (commitment following exploration), moratorium (exploration in process), foreclosure (commitment without exploration), and diffusion (no commitment with little or no exploration). These four approaches (or identity statuses) have, over many decades, been the focus of over 1,000 theoretical and research studies that have examined identity status antecedents, behavioral consequences, associated personality characteristics, patterns of interpersonal relations, and developmental forms of movement over time. A further field of study has focused on the implications for intervention that each identity status holds. Current research seeks both to refine the identity statuses and explore their dimensions further through narrative analysis.

Keywords

Subjects

  • Developmental Psychology
  • Individual Differences
  • Personality
  • Social Psychology

Introduction

We know what we are, but not what we may be.

Shakespeare, Hamlet

The question of what constitutes identity has been answered differently through different historical epochs and through different theoretical and empirical approaches to understanding identity’s form and functions. However, basic to all identity definitions is an attempt to understand the entity that, ideally, enables one to move with purpose and direction in life and with a sense of internal coherence and continuity over time and place. Despite the changing physique that aging inevitably brings and the changing environmental circumstances that one invariably encounters through life, a well-functioning identity enables one to experience feelings of personal meaning and well-being and to find satisfying and fulfilling engagements in one’s social context. The means by which one experiences a feeling of sameness in the midst of continual change is the focus of identity theory and research.

Historically, concerns with questions of identity are relatively recent. Baumeister and Muraven (1996) and Burkitt (2011) have noted how changes in Western society, specifically the degree to which society has dictated one’s adult roles, have varied enormously over time. Additional changes have occurred in the loosening of social guidelines, restrictions, and constraints, such that contemporary late adolescents experience almost unlimited freedom of choice in their assumption of adult roles and values. In Medieval times, adolescents and adults were prescribed an identity by society in a very direct manner. Social rank and the kinship networks into which one was born set one’s adult roles for life. In early modern times, wealth rather than kinship networks became the standard for self-definition. In the first half of the twentieth century , apprenticeship systems that prepared adolescents for one specific line of work were giving way to more liberal forms of education, thus preparing adolescents for a broad range of occupational pathways. A more liberal educational system, however, eventually required occupational choice in line with one’s own interests and capacities. In addition, many regions in the United States became more tolerant of diversity in attitudes and values, and gender roles became more fluid. Thus, by the middle of the twentieth century in the United States and many other Western nations, the burden of creating an adult identity was now falling largely on the shoulders of late adolescents themselves.

Into this twentieth century United States context came Erik Erikson, a German immigrant (escaping Hitler’s rise to power) and psychoanalyst, trained by Anna Freud. Erikson began his clinical work and writings on optimal personality development in the Boston area, focusing, in particular, on the concept of identity and identity crisis. As an immigrant, Erikson was acutely attuned to the role of the social context and its influence on individual personality development, and, as a psychoanalyst, he was also adept at understanding the roles of conscious as well as unconscious motivations, desires, and intentions, as well as biological drives on individual behavior.

Erikson (1963) first used the term “ego identity” to describe a central disturbance among some of his veteran patients returning from World War II with a diagnosis of “shell shock” (or currently, post-traumatic stress disorder), who seemed to be experiencing a loss of self-sameness and continuity in their lives:

What impressed me most was the loss in these men of a sense of identity. They knew who they were they had a personal identity. But it was as if subjectively, their lives no longer hung together—and never would again. There was a central disturbance in what I then started to call ego identity.

Through identity’s absence in the lives of these young men, Erikson came to understand the tripartite nature of identity, that he believed to be comprised of biological, psychological, and social factors. It was often a particular moment in a soldier’s life history where soma, psyche, and society conspired to endanger identity foundations that necessitated clinical care. And, thus, it was through disruptions to individual identity that Erikson more clearly came to understand identity’s form and functions.

Erikson has often been referred to as “identity’s architect” (e.g., Friedman, 1999), and his initial writings on identity served as the springboard for many later theorists and researchers to examine further identity’s many dimensions. Erikson’s psychosocial approach will thus serve as the organizing framework for a review of research on identity development during adolescent and adult life.

Erikson’s Psychosocial Orientation

Erikson’s (1963, 1968) understanding of identity views the phenomenon as a result of the mutual interaction of individual and context while individual interests and capacities, wishes and desires draw individuals to particular contexts, those contexts, in turn, provide recognition (or not) of individual identity and are critical to its further development. Erikson stressed the important interactions among the biological, psychological, and social forces for optimal personality development. He suggested a series of eight psychosocial tasks over the course of the life span that follow an epigenetic principle, such that resolution to one task sets the foundation for all that follow. Identity vs. Role Confusion is the fifth psychosocial task that Erikson identified, becoming of primary importance during adolescence. Resolution to preceding tasks of Trust vs. Mistrust, Autonomy vs. Doubt and Shame, Initiative vs. Guilt, Industry vs. Inferiority are the foundations upon which one’s resolution to Identity vs. Role Confusion is based, according to Erikson resolution to subsequent adult tasks of Intimacy vs. Role Confusion, Generativity vs. Stagnation, and Integrity vs. Despair all similarly depend upon resolution to the Identity vs. Role Confusion task of adolescence.

Erikson (1963, 1968) postulated a number of key identity concepts that have served as foundations for much subsequent identity research. For Erikson, identity formation involves finding a meaningful identity direction on a continuum between identity attainment and role confusion. The process of identity formation requires identity exploration and commitment, the synthesis of childhood identifications into a new configuration, related to but different from, the sum of its parts. The identity formation process is extremely arduous for some, and the resolutions of a negative identity or identity foreclosure are two means by which the identity formation process can be bypassed. A negative identity involves identity choices based on roles and values that represent polar opposites of those espoused by one’s family and/or immediate community. Thus, the daughter of a Midwestern minister of religion runs away to become a prostitute in inner city Chicago. A foreclosed identity resolution also avoids the identity formation process by basing identity-defining choices on key identifications, mostly with parental values, without exploring potential alternatives.

Erikson (1963, 1968) also proposed several further concepts for optimal identity development. A moratorium process, the active consideration and exploration of future possible identity-defining adult roles and values, was considered vital to optimal identity development. Erikson also became well known for his use of the term identity crisis, an acute period of questioning one’s own identity directions. And finally, Erikson stressed that while an initial resolution to the Identity vs. Role Confusion task often occurs during adolescence, identity is never resolved once and for all, but rather remains open to modifications and alterations throughout adult life. The strength of Erikson’s approach lies in its consideration of both individual and sociocultural factors and their mutual interaction in identity construction and development. Erikson’s model of identity development has wide applicability across cultural contexts and highlights the ongoing nature of identity development throughout adulthood. Weaknesses include his imprecise language, which at times makes operationalization of key concepts difficult, and his historically dated concepts regarding women’s identity development.

While other psychosocial models have evolved from Erikson’s original writings (e.g., Whitbourne’s [2002] identity processing theory, Berzonsky’s [2011] social cognitive identity styles, McAdams’s [2008] narrative approach), it is Erikson’s identity formation concepts, particularly those operationalized by Marcia (1966) (Marcia, Waterman, Matteson, Archer, & Orlofsky, 1993) that have generated an enormous volume of empirical research over past decades and will be the primary focus of subsequent sections of this article.

Erikson’s Psychosocial Approach and Marcia’s Identity Status Model

As a young Ph.D. student in clinical psychology, James Marcia was interested in Erikson’s writings but suspected that the process of identity formation during late adolescence to be somewhat more complicated than what Erikson (1963) had originally proposed. While Erikson had conceptualized an identity resolution as lying on a continuum between identity and role confusion, an entity that one had “more or less of,” Marcia proposed that there were four qualitatively different pathways by which late adolescents or young adults went about the process of forming an identity. Based on the presence or absence of exploration and commitment around several issues important to identity development during late adolescence, Marcia (1966 Marcia et al., 1993) developed a semi-structured Identity Status Interview to identify four identity pathways, or identity statuses, among late adolescent or young adult interviewees.

An individual in the identity achieved status had explored various identity-defining possibilities and had made commitments on his or her own terms, trying to match personal interests, talents, and values with those available in the environmental context. Equally committed to an identity direction was the foreclosed individual, who had formed an identity, but without undergoing an exploration process. This person’s identity had been acquired primarily through the process of identification—by assuming the identity choices of significant others without serious personal consideration of alternative possibilities. An individual in the moratorium identity status was very much in the process of identity exploration, seeking meaningful life directions but not yet making firm commitments and often experiencing considerable discomfort in the process. Someone in the diffusion identity status had similarly not made identity-defining commitments and was not attempting to do so.

Marcia et al.’s (1993) Identity Status Interview was designed to tap the areas (or domains) of occupation, political, religious, and sexual values that had been described by Erikson as key to the identity formation process. In Marcia’s view, however, the nature of the identity domain was not as critical to the assessment of identity status as was finding the identity-defining issues most salient to any given individual. Marcia suggested the use of clinical judgment in assigning a global identity status, the mode that seemed to best capture an adolescent’s identity formation process. It must be noted that Marcia and his colleagues (Marcia et al., 1993) have never attempted to capture all of the rich dimensions of identity outlined by Erikson through the Identity Status Interview such a task would be unwieldy, if not impossible. Marcia does, however, build on Erikson’s concepts of identity exploration and comment to elaborate these identity dimensions in relation to those psychosocial roles and values identified by Erikson as key to the identity formation process of many late adolescents.

Subsequent to the original Identity Status Interview, several paper-and-pencil measures were developed to assess Marcia’s four identity statuses. One widely used measure has been the Extended Objective Measure of Ego Identity Status (EOM-EIS II), devised and revised through several versions by Adams and his colleagues (Adams, Bennion, & Huh, 1989 Adams & Ethier, 1999). This questionnaire measure enables identity status assessments in four ideological (occupation, religion, politics, philosophy of life) and four interpersonal domains (friendships, dating, gender roles, recreation/leisure), as well as providing a global rating.

Different dimensions of identity exploration and commitment processes have also been identified through several recent and expanded identity status models (Luyckx, Goossens, Soenens, & Beyers, 2006 Crocetti, Rubini, & Meeus, 2008). Luyckx and his colleagues differentiated two types of exploration (exploration in breadth and exploration in depth) and two types of commitment (commitment making and identification with commitment). Exploration in breadth is that moratorium process identified by Marcia, while exploration in depth describes the process of considering a commitment already made and how well it expresses one’s own identity. Commitment making refers to deciding an identity-defining direction, while identification with commitment describes the process of integrating one’s commitments into an internal sense of identity. Later, Luyckx and his colleagues (Luyckx, Schwartz, Berzonsky, Soenens, Vansteenkiste, Smits, et al., 2008) also identified a process of ruminative exploration.

Meeus and his colleagues (e.g., Crocetti, Rubini, & Meeus, 2008) also identified three identity processes: commitment, exploration in depth, and reconsideration of commitments. Commitment here refers to the dimensions of commitment making and identification with commitment in the Luyckx, Goossens, Soenens, and Beyers (2006) model exploration in depth corresponds to that dimension in the Luyckx model. Reconsideration of commitment refers to one’s willingness to replace current commitments with new ones. In this model, commitment and reconsideration reflect identity certainty and uncertainty, respectively, in the identity formation process.

Through cluster analysis, these two groups of researchers have extracted clusters that match all of Marcia’s original identity statuses. In addition, Luyckx and his colleagues (Luyckx, Goossens, Soenens, Beyers, & Vansteenkiste, 2005) identified two types of diffusion—troubled and carefree—while Meeus, van de Schoot, Keijsers, Schwartz, and Branje (2010) found two types of moratoriums—classical (where the individual exhibits anxiety and depression in the identity exploration process) and searching (where new commitments are considered without discarding present commitments). Work has now begun to explore the identity formation process during adolescence and young adulthood with these refined identity statuses, which hold interesting implications for understanding both adaptive and non-adaptive identity development.

Over the time since Marcia’s initial studies, the identity statuses have been examined in relation to personality and behavioral correlates, relationship styles, and developmental patterns of change over time. Most of the studies reviewed in subsequent sections address some aspect of identity development during adolescence or young adulthood a later section will focus on identity development research during adulthood. It must be further noted that discussion of identity statuses here will be limited to general (or global) identity and its relationship to associated variables.

Personality and Behavioral Correlates of the Identity Statuses

Work utilizing Marcia’s original identity status model, as well as its more recent refinements, have focused on personality and behavioral variables associated with each identity status in order to help validate the model such studies have produced some reasonably consistent results over time. In terms of personality variables associated with the identity statuses, Kroger and her colleagues (e.g., Martinussen & Kroger, 2013) have produced a series of findings utilizing techniques of meta-analysis. Meta-analysis is a “study of studies,” using statistical procedures to examine (sometimes contradictory) results from different individual studies addressing comparable themes over time. Results from such meta-analytic studies allow greater confidence in results than a narrative review of individual studies can provide. The personality variables of self-esteem, anxiety, locus of control, authoritarianism, moral reasoning, and ego development and their relations to identity status have attracted sufficient studies for meta-analyses to be undertaken and are described in the sections that follow. While a number of other personality variables have also been examined in identity status studies over the past decades, their numbers have been insufficient to enable meta-analytic studies.

An initial database for all studies included in the meta-analytic work described in the following sections was comprised of some 565 English-language studies (287 journal publications and 278 doctoral dissertations) identified from PsycInfo, ERIC, Sociological Abstracts, and Dissertation Abstracts International databases, using the following search terms: identity and Marcia, identity and Marcia’s, and ego identity. Cohen’s (1988) criteria were used to define small, medium, and large effect sizes. In some of the meta-analyses that follow, different methods were used to assess identity status (categorical ratings of identity status and scale measures of identity status). Separate meta-analyses had to be undertaken for studies utilizing each of these two types of identity status assessments for statistical reasons.

Self-Esteem

Ryeng, Kroger, and Martinussen (2013a) undertook meta-analytic studies of the relationship between identity status and global self-esteem. A total of twelve studies with 1,124 participants provided the data for these studies. The achieved identity status was the only status to have a positive correlation with self-esteem (r = .35), considered to be moderate in effect size. Mean correlations between self-esteem and the moratorium, foreclosure, and diffusion statuses were all negative (−.23, −.23, and −.20, respectively) and considered small to moderate in effect size. All of these correlations were significantly different from zero, based on their confidence intervals. When identity status was assessed categorically, there was no difference in effect size between achievements and foreclosures on self-esteem measures. The effect size for the foreclosure-diffusion comparison ( = −0.19) was small to medium and also significant. Remaining comparisons evidenced small effect size differences in self-esteem scores. Findings here were mixed, as previous research had also produced mixed results on the question of whether foreclosure self-esteem scores would be lower than or similar to those of the identity achieved. Here, results show that only the achieved status (when the identity statuses were measured by continuous scales) produced a moderately positive correlation with self-esteem, while there was no difference in effect sizes between the achieved and foreclosed identity status when studies assessing identity status categorically were analyzed. Thus, the relationship between identity status and self-esteem may depend upon how identity status is measured.

Anxiety

Lillevoll, Kroger, and Martinussen (2013a) examined the relationship between identity status and generalized anxiety through meta-analysis. Twelve studies involving 2,104 participants provided data for this investigation. Effect size differences in anxiety scores for moratoriums compared with foreclosures ( = 0.39) and for the foreclosure–diffusion comparison ( = −0.40) were small to moderate. Additionally the confidence intervals for both of these effect sizes did not contain zero, indicating a significant result. A significant moderate effect size ( = 0.46) was also found in the achievement–foreclosure comparison, but for men only. As predicted, foreclosures had lower anxiety scores compared with all other identity statuses except the achievement women. While it was predicted that those in the achievement identity status would have lower anxiety scores than those in moratorium and diffusion statuses, a small but significant effect size difference was found for the achievement–moratorium comparison only ( = −0.22). Thus, the moratoriums showed higher generalized anxiety scores than foreclosures, who, in turn, showed lower anxiety scores than the diffusions and male achievements. It appears that unexamined identity commitments undertaken by the foreclosures provided relief from the anxieties and uncertainties of uncommitted identity directions experienced by the moratoriums and diffusions.

Locus of Control

Lillevoll, Kroger, and Martinussen (2013b) examined the relationship between identity status and locus of control. Some five studies with a total of 711 participants provided data for this study. A positive correlation between identity achievement and internal locus of control (r = .26) and a negative correlation between identity achievement and external locus of control (r = −.17) was found these effect sizes are considered small to medium. The moratorium identity status was negatively correlated with internal locus of control (r = −.17) and positively with an external locus of control (r = .17), both considered small to medium effect sizes. The foreclosure status was negatively correlated the internal locus of control (r = −.12) and positively with external locus of control (r = .19), both considered small to medium effect sizes. The diffusions’ status was negatively correlated with internal locus of control (r = −.15) and positively with external locus of control (r = .23), both considered small to medium effect sizes. Apart from the moratorium findings, which were anticipated to reflect an internal locus of control, all other results were in expected directions. It appears that the ability to undertake identity explorations on one’s own terms by the identity achieved is associated with an internal locus of control. Moratorium, foreclosure, and diffusion statuses are associated with an external locus of control.

Authoritarianism

The relationship between identity status and authoritarianism was investigated by Ryeng, Kroger, and Martinussen (2013b) through meta-analysis. Some nine studies involving 861 participants provided data for this study. The mean difference between authoritarianism scores for the achievement—foreclosure comparison ( = −0.79) was large in terms of Cohen’s criteria and significant. The mean difference in authoritarianism scores for the moratorium–foreclosure comparison ( = −0.67) was medium and significant, while the mean difference in authoritarianism scores for the foreclosure and diffusion identity statuses was medium ( = 0.42) and significant. Other comparisons were relatively small and not significant. That the foreclosures scored higher on authoritarianism than all other identity statuses is consistent with expectations. Foreclosures often base their identity commitments on their identifications with significant others, rather than exploring identity options on their own terms thus, the rigidity and intolerance of authoritarian attitudes seem to characterize the terms of their identity commitments, in contrast to the more flexible commitments of the identity achieved or moratoriums in the process of finding their own identity directions.

Ego Development

Jespersen, Kroger, and Martinussen (2013a) examined studies utilizing Loevinger’s (1976) measure of ego development in relation to the identity statuses through meta-analysis. Eleven studies involving 943 participants provided data for this investigation. Odds ratios (OR) were used to examine frequency distributions of the categorical data. Results of correlational studies showed a moderate, positive relationship between ego development and identity status (r = .35), which was significant. Results from categorical assessments of identity status also showed a strong relationship between identity status and ego development (mean OR = 3.02). This finding means that the odds of being in a postconformist level of ego development were three times greater for those high in identity statuses (achievement and moratorium) compared with those in the low identity statuses (foreclosure and diffusion). The study also found a moderate relationship between identity achievement and ego development (mean OR = 2.15), meaning that the odds of being in a postconformist level of ego development were over two times greater for those in the identity achievement status than remaining identity statuses. However, no relationship was found between the foreclosed/nonforeclosed identity statuses and the conformist/nonconformist levels of ego development, contrary to prediction (mean OR = 1.31). While results indicate a strong likelihood of being in a post-conformist level of ego development for the identity achieved and moratoriums, as one would predict, it is somewhat surprising that the foreclosure status was not associated with conventional levels of ego development. This lack of association requires further investigation.

Moral Reasoning

A meta-analysis of moral reasoning stages (using Kohlberg’s [1976] stages in relation to the identity statuses) was also undertaken by Jespersen, Kroger, and Martinussen (2013b). Some ten studies involving 884 participants provided data appropriate for this study. Results showed a small positive mean correlation (.15) between identity status and moral reasoning development, which was significant. Results from categorical assessments of both measures indicated a strong relationship between high identity status (achievement and moratorium) and postconventional levels of moral reasoning (mean OR = 4.57). This result means that the odds of being in the postconventional level of moral reasoning are about four and a half times greater for the high identity status group (achievement and moratorium) than the low (foreclosure and diffusion) group. A strong relationship was also found between the achieved identity status and the postconventional level of moral reasoning (mean OR = 8.85), meaning that the odds of being in a postconventional level of moral reasoning were almost nine times greater for the identity achieved than for other identity statuses. However, no significant relationship appeared for the foreclosed/nonforeclosed identity statuses and the conventional/nonconventional levels of moral reasoning, contrary to prediction. While a meaningful relationship was found between postconventional stages of moral reasoning and the moratorium and achievement identity statuses, it is again surprising that no relationship appeared for the foreclosed identity status and conventional levels of moral reasoning. This finding warrants further investigation.

Additional Personality and Behavioral Variables

A number of additional personality and behavioral variables have been explored in relation to the identity statuses, but no further meta-analyses have yet been undertaken. With regard to the newer, more refined measures of identity status, some additional personality and behavioral associations have been noted. Luyckx et al. (2008) found ruminative exploration related to identity distress and low self-esteem, while exploration in breadth and depth were positively related to self-reflection. Furthermore, commitment-making (particularly identification with commitment) was associated with high self-esteem, high academic and social adjustment, as well as with low depressive symptoms. Crocetti et al. (2008) similarly found strong, positive associations between commitment and self-concept clarity, in addition to strong negative associations between in-depth exploration and reconsideration of commitment with self-reflection. Emotional stability was strongly associated with commitment and negatively with in-depth exploration.

Recent work has performed cluster analyses on the exploration and commitment variables, finding four clusters replicating Marcia’s four identity statuses (with the diffusion status including carefree and diffuse diffusions) and an undifferentiated status (Schwartz et al., 2011). In terms of psychosocial functioning, achievements were significantly higher than carefree diffusions on a measure of self-esteem diffusions, in turn, were significantly lower than all other identity statuses on this variable. On a measure of internal locus of control, achievements and moratoriums were significantly higher and carefree diffusions significantly lower than all other identity statuses. On psychological well-being, identity achievements scored significantly higher and carefree diffusions significantly lower than all other identity status groups. For general anxiety, moratoriums and the two diffusion groups scored significantly higher than achievement and foreclosure groups, while the moratoriums scored significantly higher than foreclosures and the two diffusions groups on depression. These findings are generally in line with findings of earlier studies using Marcia’s original model.

Further behavioral studies in relation to the identity statuses have consistently found the identity diffusion status to be related to psychosocial problem behaviors. Delinquent behavior (e.g., Jessor, Turbin, Costa, Dong, Zhang, & Wang, 2003 Schwartz, Pantin, Prado, Sullivan, & Szapocznik, 2005), substance abuse (e.g., Jones & Hartmann, 1988 Laghi, Baiocco, Longiro, & Baumgartner, 2013), risky behaviors (e.g., unsafe sex, Hernandez & DiClemente, 1992), social, physical aggression, and rule-breaking (carefree diffusions, Schwartz et al., 2011), and procrastination (Shanahan & Pychyl, 2006) have all been linked with the identity diffusion status. By contrast, the identity achieved have demonstrated a low prevalence of all preceding problem behaviors, coupled with high levels of agency or self-direction and commitment making (e.g., Schwartz et al., 2011 Shanahan & Pychyl, 2006). Moratoriums have also scored relatively high on levels of social and physical aggression, although they have also scored high on a number of psychosocial measures of well-being (e.g., Schwartz et al., 2011).

Relationships and the Identity Statuses

While a number of relational issues have been explored in identity status research (e.g., parental attitudes toward childrearing, family styles of communication, and friendship styles), to date, meta-analyses have been undertaken to examine identity status only in relation to attachment patterns and intimacy or romantic relationships.

Attachment

Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) have proposed that one’s very unique attachment history and subsequent working models of attachment lead to one of four different adolescent/adult attachment styles, or patterns of relating to significant others these attachment styles become activated particularly in times of stress. Securely attached individuals are at ease in becoming close to others and do not worry about being abandoned or having someone become too close to them. Furthermore, they are interdependent—comfortable depending on others and having others depend on them. Those using the avoidant attachment style find it difficult to trust and depend on others and are uncomfortable in becoming too emotionally close. The preoccupied (anxious/ambivalent) attachment group wants to be close to others but worries that others will not reciprocate and will abandon them, while the fearful attachment group wants to be emotionally close to others but are too frightened of being hurt to realize this desire.

These varied styles of attachment have been examined in relation to Marcia’s identity statuses among adolescents and young adults in a number of studies over the past decades, and recent meta-analytic work has explored patterns of findings across studies (Årseth, Kroger, Martinussen, & Marcia, 2009). From the large database of 565 identity status studies described earlier, some 14 had data suitable for meta-analysis (a full description of the database can be found in Martinussen & Kroger, 2013). A total of 2,329 participants were involved in this investigation. Weak to moderate correlations were found between identity status and attachment style when scale measures were used to assess each variable the highest mean correlations were between the secure attachment style and identity achievement (r = .21) as well as identity diffusion (r = −.23). (Cohen, 1988, regarded a correlation of .30 as moderate and .10 as weak.) The diffusion status was also weakly to moderately positively correlated with the fearful attachment style (r = .19). Among categorical assessments of identity status and attachment style, results suggest there are real differences between the identity achieved and foreclosed as well as diffusion identity statuses, with the identity achieved far more likely to be securely attached than foreclosed or diffusion statuses. Data from these studies suggests that one’s relational experiences do have some links to one’s identity status.

Intimacy

According to Erikson’s (1963, 1968) epigenetic principle, resolution to the task of Identity vs. Intimacy should set the foundation for resolution to the task of Intimacy vs. Isolation during late adolescence and young adulthood. In Erikson’s (1968) view, true intimacy involves mutuality and commitment, an acceptance of another with all of his or her strengths and weaknesses in an interdependent, sexual relationship. Erikson (1968) believed that genuine intimacy requires a sense of identity to be firmly in place, or the relationship becomes merely a tool to help resolve identity concerns for each partner. However, Erikson was unclear about the potential for gender differences in his theory, and a number of feminist writers (e.g., Gilligan, 1982) have stressed the importance of relationship issues for women to the identity formation process. Literature examining the relationship between identity and intimacy statuses for late adolescent and young adult men and women has often produced conflicting results.

Thus, a meta-analysis of the relationship between identity status and intimacy for men and women was undertaken by Årseth, Kroger, Martinussen, and Marcia (2009). Some 21 studies with a total of 1,983 participants were included in meta-analyses here. For studies utilizing scale measures of intimacy, results indicated a low to moderate effect size for men ( = .35) and women ( = .30) considered separately, as well as for the total group ( = .40). All results were significant and indicate that high identity status individuals (achievement and moratorium) scored higher on scale measures of intimacy than low identity status individuals (foreclosures and diffusions). For categorical assessments of identity and intimacy, the picture was somewhat more complex. Among men, the mean odds ratio of having both a high identity and high intimacy status was very high at 22.09, while for women the mean odds ratio was 2.61. In terms of percentages, some 69% of high identity status men were also high in intimacy, while only 23% of low identity status men were high in intimacy. Erikson’s epigenetic principle thus finds strong support among men. Among women, while 65% of high identity status women were also high in intimacy status, some 46% of low identity status women were also high in intimacy status. Thus, the low identity status women were almost equally distributed over high and low intimacy status groups. These results indicate Erikson’s epigenetic principle also was present for a large proportion of women sampled however, the relationship was significantly stronger for men than women (p < .001), and reasons for this gender difference require further investigation.

Identity Status Change from Adolescence Through Adulthood

Erikson (1963, 1968) had proposed that while making initial identity resolutions was a key developmental task of adolescence, identity remained malleable, open to further changes throughout adult life. Similarly, the identity status literature that has pointed to different patterns of movement during young, middle, and late adolescence clearly shows that identity will continue to meet challenges and, for some, the need for revision throughout adulthood. What are the most prevalent patterns of identity status change over the course of adolescent and adult life, and what are the key events primarily associated with these changes?

A number of studies addressing identity status changes over time have now been undertaken, and a series of meta-analytic investigations are perhaps the most effective means of summarizing common patterns of movement and stability in the identity status literature. Kroger, Martinussen, and Marcia (2010) investigated some 72 of 124 identity studies that contained developmental information from the larger database of 565 English-language identity status studies described earlier. Movement patterns were investigated in several ways.

When movements over approximately three years of late adolescence and young adulthood were examined longitudinally from data that assessed identity status in categorical terms, the mean proportion of adolescents making progressive identity status changes (D–F, D–M, D–A, F–M, F–A, and M–A) was .36, compared with .15 who made regressive changes (A–M, A–F, A–D, M–F, M–D, and F–D) and .49 who remained stable (A–A, M–M, F–F, D–D) over this time period. It is interesting that the mean proportion of those remaining stable in identity status was so high, especially during the time of late adolescence that Erikson (1968) has identified as central to the identity formation process. As anticipated, the highest mean proportions of progressive movements were from M–A (.46), F–A (.22), and F–M (.22). The highest mean proportions of those remaining stable were the committed identity achieved (.66) and the foreclosed (.53) statuses. The highest mean proportions of those making regressive movements were from A–F (.17) and M–F (.17).

For cross-sectional studies assessing identity status in categorical terms, the mean proportion of identity achievements increased steadily through the high school years, dropped upon university entry and increased to .34 by age 22 years. It was not until the 30–36 year age group that about half of the participants were rated identity achieved (.47). The mean proportion of moratoriums rose fairly steadily to age 19 years, which peaked at .42 and declined fairly steadily thereafter through the 30–36 year age span. The mean proportion of foreclosures dropped fairly steadily to a low at age 19 years of .12, but then showed and up and down movement throughout remaining ages to .17 in the 30–36 year age group. The mean proportion of diffusions declined fairly steadily from age 14–20 years of age (from .36 to .21), but by age 21 years, the diffusions rose again to .26 and showed up and down movement until the final 30–36 year age span (.14).

For cross-sectional studies using continuous measures of identity status, it was anticipated that achievement and moratorium scores would increase across age groups and foreclosure and diffusion scores would decrease over time. Studies here were based on data for early and mid-adolescents. The anticipated patterns were found, but all effect sizes were small. It may be that more pronounced identity status changes occur during and beyond late adolescence.

Additional studies of identity status change through middle and later adulthood years not included in meta-analyses have also generally found slow, progressive identity status movements over time. Fadjukoff, Pulkkinen, and Kokko (2016) analyzed identity status longitudinally in a Finnish sample of men and women drawn from the general population. Identity status was assessed at ages 27, 36, 42, and 50 years. Movement towards identity achievement was predominant on the overall measure of identity status, with women typically reaching identity achievement earlier than men. In a narrative analysis of identity pathways among women assessed from late adolescence through mid-life, Josselson (1996) found a diversity of identity pathways, with achievement and foreclosure pathways tending to be the most stable over time. Carlsson, Wängqvist, and Frisén (2015) have also examined identity status change and stability in a longitudinal study of young adults at ages 25 and 29 years in Sweden. Half of participants were coded in the same identity status at Times 1 and 2, while half who changed did so in a progressive direction. Additional identity processes of how people approach life-changing situations, the extent to which they continue to engage in meaning-making, and how they continue to develop their personal life directions were explored through narrative methods among foreclosed and achieved participants. Identity achievement was associated with continued identity development over time, while patterns for ongoing development among foreclosures were more mixed. McLean and Pasupathi (2012) have made a plea for the use of narrative methods that examine reconstructions of past events to supplement current understandings of the exploration and commitment processes involved on ongoing identity development throughout the life span. Additional identity processes may usefully be identified through such means.

Events Associated with Identity Status Change

An issue that researchers have been exploring over several decades is the question of what kinds of circumstances are associated with identity status change and, conversely, what circumstances are linked with identity status stability. Some hints have appeared in related literatures. For example, Helson and Roberts (1994) found that some optimal level of “accommodative challenge” or life stimulation is critical for adult ego development (referring to Loevinger’s, 1976, model of ego development). Accommodative challenge is a circumstance or event that involves either a positive or negative disruption to one’s life. It may be that such life challenges are important to ongoing identity development over time as well.

Anthis and colleagues (Anthis, 2002, 2011 Anthis & La Voie, 2006) have conducted several investigations into life events associated with identity exploration and commitment. In her “calamity theory of growth” model, Anthis (2002) has found stressful life events, such as divorce or job loss, to be associated with increased levels of identity exploration and decreases in identity commitments. She has also found increased levels of identity exploration to be associated with a “readiness for change” measure (Anthis & La Voie, 2006). Anthis suggests investigating how optimal levels of perceived conflict interact with other factors for different cohorts of people in exploring the role that life events may play in ongoing identity development during adulthood.

Additionally, Kunnen (2006, 2010) asks if conflict may be the driver of identity change. In a study of freshman university students, she found that students who experienced a conflict in their career goals increased identity exploratory activity and also manifested a decrease in the strength of their present commitments. Furthermore, those experiencing conflict perceived more change in their commitments as compared to nonconflicted students. The types and levels of perceived identity conflict and the mechanisms by which conflict may stimulate or impair ongoing identity development are in need of further study. Lilgendahl’s (2015) narrative work reiterates the value of negative events and their potential for psychological growth during midlife, while events that are understood as positive are key to the formation of identity commitments during young adulthood.

Identity Development in Adulthood

Research into ongoing identity development during adulthood has taken several forms. Some researchers have attempted to understand the relationship between resolution to identity issues during late adolescence or young adulthood and the Eriksonian psychosocial tasks of adulthood: Intimacy vs. Isolation (young adulthood), Generativity vs. Stagnation (middle adulthood), and Integrity vs. Despair (late adulthood). Others have attempted to examine selected issues of identity during these specific adult life phases and whether or not identity cohesion and stability increase with age over the course of adulthood. The following brief overview presents some selected findings from these strands of identity research during various phases of adult life.

According to Erikson’s (1963, 1968) epigenetic principle, resolutions to earlier psychosocial tasks will impact resolutions to all subsequent ones. Research to date has generally supported this proposal, with some caveats for the relationship between identity and intimacy, described in meta-analytic studies in a preceding section. The relationships among identity, generativity, and integrity have only recently become a focus of research attention, and they present important opportunities for future investigations. Beaumont and Pratt (2011) have examined links among Berzonsky’s (2011) identity styles, Intimacy vs. Isolation, and Generativity vs. Stagnation in samples of young and midlife adults. They found that the informational style (associated with identity achievement) was linked with both the capacity for intimacy and generativity, while the diffuse–avoidant style (associated with identity diffusion) was negatively linked with both intimacy and generativity. The normative identity style (associated with the foreclosure identity status) also positively predicted resolution to intimacy and generativity tasks of adulthood. Pulkkinen, Lyyra, Fadjukoff, and Kokko (2012) obtained longitudinal data from Finnish adults at ages 27, 36, 42, and 50 years on measures including parental identity, general identity, generativity, and integrity. Generativity scores (as well as scores for psychological and social well-being) were highest if parental identity was achieved by age 42. On a cross-sectional basis, Hearn, Saulnier, Strayer, Glenham, Koopman, and Marcia (2012) examined the relationship between identity status and a measure of integrity status. A significant relationship was found, with some 86% of integrated persons rated as identity achieved, while no despairing persons were. Those in the non-exploring integrity status (in which questions of personal life meanings were unexplored), the pseudo-integrated integrity status (in which the world was understood in terms of simplistic templates or clichéd meanings), and the despairing integrity status were most frequently in the foreclosed identity status. Hannah, Domino, Figueredo, and Hendrickson (1996) explored predictors of Integrity vs. Despair in a sample of later life adults, finding the most predictive and parsimonious variables to be trust, autonomy, identity, and intimacy, with no meaningful gender differences. Thus, Erikson’s epigenetic principle has found considerable support over time and illustrates the important role that identity resolution plays to the resolution of subsequent psychosocial tasks during adulthood.

While Erikson (1963, 1968) had postulated the ongoing nature of identity development throughout adulthood, and Stephen, Fraser, and Marcia (1992) had first proposed the likelihood of ongoing moratorium–achievement–moratorium–achievement cycles in adult identity development, there have been relatively few efforts to examine the nature of change and continuity in identity development over the course of adulthood. While some early research has estimated the likelihood of a midlife identity crisis to be about 10% (e.g., Brim, 1992), recent work has pointed to ongoing times of identity crisis (or revision) during the later adult years as well (Robinson & Stell, 2015). Experiences of well-being have been examined in relation to adult psychosocial stage resolutions in the Rochester Adult Longitudinal Study (Sneed, Whitbourne, Schwartz, & Huang, 2011), where scores on both identity and intimacy measures in early and middle adulthood predicted midlife feelings of satisfaction and well-being. A sense of coherence and life satisfaction in later adult years has been fully mediated by resolution to Integrity vs. Despair (Dezutter, Wiesmann, Apers, & Luyckx, 2013). Much remains to be learned about ongoing identity development in the adulthood years, and the relation of identity to subsequent psychosocial tasks and additional personality variables.

What the Identity Statuses Mean

Through the decades since Marcia (1966) developed his identity status model, there has been considerable discussion in the literature about what the identity statuses actually mean and how best to assess them. Marcia (1980) considers identity to be a structure for organizing individual conscious and unconscious wishes, interests, skills, and talents within the framework of one’s biology and cultural context. His identity status model was intended to reflect the movement through Erikson’s (1963, 1968) identity formation process, from an identity based on identifications (foreclosure status), through an exploration (moratorium) process, to a new configuration, based on but different from the sum of its identificatory elements (achievement).

In considering the question of what it is that actually changes in an identity status transition, Kroger (2003) has suggested that qualitatively different forms of ego organization underlie each of Marcia’s identity statuses. However, after an initial identity has formed, further use of the identity status model during adult life begs the question of what the identity statuses actually mean when applied to adults. While new identity-defining decisions may occur in adult life, is there an actual underlying structural change of identity? There may or may not be. There may actually be new or additional structures of ego organization that underlie the identity achievement status of adulthood, and future research could fruitfully explore this issue. Lile (2013, 2015) considers structural identity boundaries for each of the identity statuses and offers some empirical support for a structural model of identity that underlies the identity statuses. Identity status research in adulthood should carefully consider the meaning that the identity statuses may hold when applied to a life phase beyond that for which they were originally developed.

Conclusions

Historically, the task of identity formation is a relatively recent phenomenon. Erikson (1963, 1968) first used the identity concept in his clinical writings to describe that entity that seemed to be lacking in the lives of young men returning from combat in World War II. From Erikson’s early writings, several broad approaches to identity theory and research have emerged, laying differential emphasis on the psychosocial, phenomenological, and the contextual nature of identity. This article has reviewed some of the writings and research that have sprung from the identity status model of James Marcia (1966, 1980). This review has documented meta-analytic work covering the associations of Marcia’s four identity statuses with various personality, relational, and behavioral variables, as well as documenting the most common patterns of identity status change and stability during adolescence and adulthood. The review has also documented the role that resolution to questions of identity plays in resolutions to ongoing psychosocial tasks of adulthood.

Further identity research could fruitfully explore both the meaning of the identity statuses in ongoing adult identity development as well as the processes and contents of identity changes during adult life. The role of regression in adolescent and adult identity development is poorly understand, occurring more frequently than can be predicted by chance alone (see Kroger et al., 2010). Understanding what kinds of regression there may be and whether or not specific types of regression are vital to ongoing adult identity development are important avenues for further identity research. And though identity concerns of adolescence have many parallels to identity issues of later adulthood, very little identity-related theory and research has been undertaken with older adults. (For example, individuals in both phases of the life span must adjust to important biological changes, deal with philosophical questions of life’s meanings, and readjustment to changing demands from social contexts.) It is hoped that this article will present a foundation upon which future psychosocial research into the process and contents of identity development from adolescence through adulthood can take place.


Discussion

The study of psychopathy in general, and child and adolescent psychopathy in particular, has gained a growing interest by researchers. In criminology arena, some authors suggest that psychopathic traits are predictive of several dimensions of the delinquent career (Vaughn and DeLisi, 2008, Vaughn et al., 2008), defending that psychopathy is a unified theory of crime (DeLisi, 2009, DeLisi and Piquero, 2011). DeLisi (2009) emphasizing the importance of the concept has stated “Psychopathy is also


Watch the video: What adolescents or teenagers need to thrive. Charisse Nixon. TEDxPSUErie (June 2022).


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