The concept of identity has been approached in many different ways. Several theorists have offered developmental models of identity, e.g., Erik H. Erikson, Jane Loevinger, and Peter Blos (Kroger, 1996). The present study of adolescent identity is based on the Marcia ego identity status paradigm (Marcia, 1996, 1993a). Since the concept of identity status was introduced in 1966, Marcia's ideas have generated a great number of studies (Kroger, 2000). Researchers from different countries have studied identity status in populations, ranging from early adolescence to late adulthood (Marcia, 1993a). Various methods and instruments have been used in identity status research, but the instrument used in the present study is the most developed and validated questionnaire for measuring identity status: the Extended Objective Measure of Ego Identity Status II (EOM-EIS-II) (Adams, Bennion, & Huh, 1989; Marcia, 1993a).
Marcia's ideas spring from Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. Erikson (1959) described eight psychosocial stages of development, each stage consisting of both physical and psychological development set in a social context. Each stage represents different developomental tasks that we all face during a lifetime, with identity as the primary different developmental tasks that we all face during a lifetime, with identity as the primary psychosocial task of adolescence (Erikson, 1959, 1969). Erikson viewed identity as built upon childhood identifications but as being more than the sum of these. He describes the process of identity formation as being built upon the childhood processes of introjection and identification--that during childhood we incorporate the image of our parents (or other significant relations) and their roles, values, and beliefs. According to Erikson our future identity formation requires such introjects and identifications. However, it is not until the individual is able to choose some of those childhood identifications, and discard others, based on her or his interests and values, that identify formation can begin. Erikson stresses that all the necessary ingredients for an identity are not present until adolescence. At that point in life, great physioslogical and cognitive changes coincide with growing social expectations. Identity, for Erikson, is the individual's personal organization of experiences of biological and psychological development in relation to the recognitions and regulations the individual receives in the social context.
Marcia developed the identity status paradigm in an effort to operationally define and empirically investigate Erikson's construct of identity. In interview studies, Marcia found that the participants had different ways of arriving at an identity, and that they displayed diverse outcomes of identity formation (Marcia, 1993a, 1994). The differences found could be explained with reference to two important processes involved in the formation of an identity, namely exploration and commitment. Based upon the criteria of these processes, Marcia formulated four different identity statuses that describe different ways of forming an identity: Identity Achievement, Moratorium, Foreclosure, and Identity Diffusion. Over the years much information about significant behavioral, cognitive, affective, and attitudinal traits associated with the different identity statuses have been gathered. The following brief description of each status is based on findings reported in Ego Identity--A Handbook of Psychosocial Research (Marcia, 1993c). Identity-achieved individuals have gone through a period of exploration and have made identity-defining commitments. They are assumed to have successfully resolved the psychosocial task of adolescence. In interviews identity-achieved adolescents seem thoughtful and introspective, and able to articulate how they have made their choices and why. From experimental studies we know that identity-achieved individuals perform well under stress, reason at high levels of moral development, and score high on measures of autonomy. No significant differences in intelligence have been determined between the identity statuses, but identity-achieved individuals are shown to be more creative and rational than other statuses. Moratoriums are currently in the process of exploration and commitments are either vague or absent. These individuals actively struggle to arrive at commitments. However, moratoriums' struggle to achieve identity is an ambivalent one. They alternate between rebellion and conformity. Empirical studies have shown that moratoriums are more anxious than the achieved or foreclosed individuals. Foreclosures are, on the other hand, the least anxious of the statuses. In interviews they strike one as goal-directed and well behaved, although inflexible and defensive. They are strongly committed, but their commitments are not the result of exploration. Foreclosed persons have adopted goals, values, and beliefs from parents or other authority figures without much critical thought. It has been experimentally determined that foreclosures are authoritarian, approval-seeking, and somewhat rigid in their thought processes. The fourth identity status is diffusion. Marcia (1994) explains that there are subtypes of all identity statuses. However, the diffusions have proven to be the most heterogeneous group. Identity-diffused individuals may have undergone some explorations, but they seem to be meandering more than actively exploring. Lack of commitment is characteristic of these individuals. Some diffusions have a "playboy/playgirl" attitude to life; they seem to drift aimlessly and carefree. Others may show severe psychopathology exemplified by social isolation and unhappiness. Interviews with diffusions tend to be short. Unlike the other statuses they do not have much to say about the subjects in an identity status interview. On experimental measures, identity-diffused individuals have the most difficulty thinking when under stress and use less complex cognitive styles than do moratoriums and achievements. Research on identity status has repeatedly shown that persons who have undergone the exploration-commitment process are more relationally competent and mature than those who have not (Marcia, 1993b). The identity statuses are generally regarded as representing different levels of sophistication. Diffusion is considered the least advanced of the statuses, followed by foreclosure, moratorium, and identity achievement (Adams et al., 1989). Furthermore, the developmental assumptions are that the amount of identity achieved by individuals increases with age, and that relatively few late adolescents should be diffused (Adams et al., 1989; Waterman, 1993a).
In an effort to operationalize Marcia's identity statuses, Adams et al. (1989) developed the Objective Measure of Ego Identity Status (OMEIS), which consists of 24 items covering three content areas (occupation, religion, and politics). The OMEIS is a self-report measure wherein the …