The Role of Ego-Identity Status in Mating Preferences

By Dunkel, Curtis S.; Papini, Dennis R. | Adolescence, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

The Role of Ego-Identity Status in Mating Preferences


Dunkel, Curtis S., Papini, Dennis R., Adolescence


"One could make a point for an evolutionary rationale which would explain why sexual differences should not fully divide the sexes until competence and fidelity permit their division to be one of polarization, that is, one of mutual enhancement of experience and of distribution of labor within a stylized pattern of love and care. Such a rationale of human development would also suggest that the sexes are less different in regard to the capacities and virtues which further communication and cooperation; while the differences are greatest where divergence is of the essence, that is, in the counterpoints of love life and the divided functions of procreation. One could say, then, that the sexes are most similar in the workings of the ego, which-being closest to consciousness, language and ethics-must serve both to integrate the fact of sexual mutuality and bipolarity" (Erikson, 1964; p. 129).

This quote from Erik Erikson suggests that he recognized that both ego-identity and sex play important roles in many areas of life including mating preferences, and that at the level of mating preferences, these two factors most likely function independently. The purpose of the current study is to examine this possibility while juxtaposing two other views on mating preferences: Sexual Strategies Theory (SST) and Social Role Theory (SRT).

Although there have been a number of negative critiques (e.g., most recently van Hoof, 1999), the identity statuses (Marcia, 1966) continue to be the most utilized model in identity research. The status model is composed of two criteria: identity exploration and identity commitment. Exploration is defined as actively investigating one's identity options. Commitment is deciding to pursue a particular option and investing in it.

Individuals can be further classified into statuses based on these two criteria. Individuals are classified as identity achieved if they exhibit exploration and commitment, identity moratorium if they exhibit exploration without commitment, identity foreclosed if they exhibit commitment without exploration, and identity diffused if they do not exhibit exploration or commitment. Research has shown that the statuses vary along a number of important social and personal dimensions (Marcia, 1980). One area that is pertinent to the development of sexuality that has received some attention from identity researchers is menarche.

Both Berzonsky and Lombardo (1983) and Papini, Sebby, and Clark (1989) found links between pubertal maturation, the affective quality of the family environment, and identity. The convergence of pubertal maturation and identity during the early adolescent years permits the suggestion that later sexual strategies may be tempered by the exploration and commitment processes that underlie the identity statuses. Despite the abundance of research on status differences across a wide range of topics including identity and menarche, no research has been conducted on ego-identity and mating preferences and very little on ego-identity and any aspect of sexuality.

One notable exception to the paucity of research is an unpublished Master's thesis by King (1993), in which the relationship between identity status and self-reported sexual behavior was examined. King (1993) hypothesized that because an array of troublesome behaviors (e.g., drug use, delinquency) is associated with identity diffusion, identity diffusion would also be positively associated with risky sexual behavior (e.g., having multiple partners). She also predicted that because identity foreclosure is associated with conservative/traditional attitudes, identity foreclosure should be negatively correlated with risky sexual behavior. Empirical support was found for both hypotheses. Although demographic information (including sex) on the participants was reported, no statistical tests examining possible identity status x sex interactions were reported.

Because the statuses differ on the amount of risky sexual behavior exhibited, the results suggest that identity status may play a role in mating preferences. …

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