Interpersonal Identity Formation during Early Adolescence

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ABSTRACT

The purpose of this study was to explore interpersonal identity development during early adolescence. Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders (N = 356) were administered the interpersonal identity scale of the Revised Extended Objective Measure of Ego Identity Status (Bennion & Adams, 1986). Findings revealed that 55% of the sample fell into one of the four discrete identity status categories, with 62% of this group classified as either diffused or foreclosed. Within these two less sophisticated statuses, grade and gender differences were observed. The interpersonal domains of friendship, dating, and sex roles were salient for the young adolescents in this sample, particularly for those classified as diffused and foreclosed. Findings reflect the emergent and/or transitional nature of interpersonal identity development during early adolescence.

Adolescence is known to be a period of exploratory self-analysis and self-evaluation ideally culminating in the establishment of a cohesive and integrative sense of self or identity (Erikson, 1968). This process involves the exploration and testing of alternative ideas, beliefs, and behaviors, marking this period as one of both dramatic change and uncertainty. Erikson provided perhaps the most widely recognized theoretical framework for conceptualizing the transformation of the self during adolescence. This framework provides for the development of a sense of one's individuality (self-sameness) and continuity with significant others.

Marcia (1966) operationalized the stage progression theory of identity development proposed by Erikson by identifying four identity statuses: diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and achievement. Through the use of a semistructured interview, an individual could be assigned an identity status on the basis of the evidence of crisis and commitment in the domains of occupation, religion, and politics. Since its inception, Marcia's interview has stimulated a wide range of research in the area of identity formation.

Grotevant, Thorbecke, and Meyer (1982) argued that identity is not restricted solely to ideological components or to the domains of occupation, religion, and politics. These researchers posited that it is important to recognize the process of exploring and making commitments in interpersonal relationships in four domains: friendship, dating, sex roles, and recreation. They stated that interpersonal explorations and commitments are important aspects of identity development, serving as precursors to truly intimate relationships (in the Eriksonian sense of intimacy).

Although a substantial body of knowledge has been generated from Erikson's and Marcia's work on identity formation, the research aimed at identifying developmental stages of identity, or identity statuses, during the adolescent years has focused primarily on older adolescents and college-age individuals (Paikoff & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Adams & Montemayor, 1983). The relative lack of attention to identity development in early adolescence stems from the belief that identity status assessment is not feasible due to the cognitive and emotional immaturities of this age group. Recently, however, researchers have begun to challenge this assumption, and a number of preliminary studies have been conducted on identity formation during the earlier years of adolescence.

Meilman (1979) included younger subjects (12 and 15 years of age) and older subjects (ages 18, 21, and 24) in a study of identity status development. Based on responses to Marcia's (1966) standardized interview, between 96% and 100% of the younger group displayed identity diffusion and foreclosure. The number of diffused and foreclosed subjects decreased with age, while the number displaying identity achievement increased.

To further document the Lower age boundaries of ego identity development, Archer (1982) interviewed 160 early and middle adolescents in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12 using a format similar to Marcia's (1966). …