Differences between Students' Estimated and Attained Grades in a First-Year Introductory Psychology Course as a Function of Identity Development

Article excerpt

It has long been known that a discrepancy typically exists between students' perceptions, or estimates, of their chances of success in a university-level course and their final grades in that course (Falchikov & Baud, 1989). Prohaska (1994), for example, found that students typically overestimated their final grades, but students with higher grade point averages were more accurate in

their estimates than were those with lower grade point averages. Prohaska suggested that those students with a high discrepancy between their estimate and their performance were unaware of their capabilities of attaining academic success. Prohaska recommended that future research examine individual differences among students to determine which factors exert the most influence on students' estimates of their chances for academic success.

One of the most important factors found to be associated with academic success is level of identity development (Berger, 1998; Berzonsky, 1989, 1993; Streitmatter, 1989), or the definition of one's self in terms of roles, attitudes, beliefs, and aspirations (Erikson, 1982). Specifically, Berzonsky (1989, 1993) has shown that identity development may affect students' academic success by influencing not only the nature of their cognitive reasoning skills, but also the manner in which students cope with the stresses of university life. Thus, it might be the case, if Berzonsky is correct, that those who have formed an adult identity are in more of a position to make accurate judgments of their capabilities of attaining academic success. In contrast, those who have not achieved an adult identity may not have either the reasoning ability to make an accurate judgment of their prospects of academic success or the cognitive skills to fulfill the requirements of a university-level course.

The development of an adult identity, however, is not thought to be a discrete event, but rather involves a number of possible pre-adult identity states. Marcia (1980) theorized that adolescents' search for an identity could be described in terms of both their recognition of the existence of an identity "crisis" (and their exploration to find a solution to the crisis) and their commitment to a solution to the crisis (i.e., the development of an adult identity). Using this system, an adolescent's identity status at any time may be characterized as being one of four types: (1) diffused identity--a person who has not realized the necessity of developing an adult identity and, therefore, has not made a commitment to one (this identity status characterizes most individuals at the beginning of adolescence); (2) foreclosed identity -- a person who has made a commitment to an identity (usually based on parents' expectations) without first going through the process of recognition of crisis and exploration of solutions ; (3) identity moratorium -- a person who has recognized the need to develop an adult identity and is searching for one, but has not committed to any particular adult role and is thereby delaying the attainment of an adult identity; and (4) identity achieved -- a person who has both recognized the need to form an adult identity and has made a commitment to one.

Although Erikson originally postulated identity development, with its various identity statuses, to be primarily characteristic of adolescence, a revision of his position suggested that the formation of an adult identity may also occur in young adulthood (Erikson, 1982). Therefore, it would seem that young adult university students who have not attained an adult identity might also face the disruptions to their lives typically encountered by adolescents during their attempts to formulate an adult identity. If this is correct, it might further be the case that, as suggested by Berzonsky (1989, 1993), such developmental disruptions impair the ability of university students to understand and assess their academic capabilities. …