Convergent Validity in Objective Measures of Identity Status: Implications for Identity Status Theory

By Schwartz, Seth J. | Adolescence, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Convergent Validity in Objective Measures of Identity Status: Implications for Identity Status Theory


Schwartz, Seth J., Adolescence


The concept of identity has been under wide conceptual and empirical study for more than half a century. Erikson (1950) introduced identity development as the primary psychosocial task of adolescence. In the years since, identity has been expanded to apply not only to adolescence but also to young adulthood (e.g., Arnett, 2000; Cote & Allahar, 1994). The task of forming a sense of self has been widely researched in populations ranging from early adolescence to old age, with most research samples consisting of individuals between the ages of 12 and 30 (Archer, 1982; Marcia, 1993).

Theoretical advances in the field of identity have been abundant, especially in the past 15 years (Schwartz, 2001). Most of these advances have been based on Marcia's (1966) pioneering work. Marcia was the first theorist to derive an empirically measurable construct from Erikson's conceptual and clinical writings and to build a tradition of scientific research on identity. Largely because of its elegance and simplicity, Marcia's construct has remained timely and important for more than 35 years (Berzonsky & Adams, 1999).

Marcia's construct is based on the independent dimensions of exploration and commitment. Exploration represents the search for a revised and refined sense of self; whereas commitment represents the choice to pursue a specific set of goals, values, and beliefs. Marcia bifurcated each of these dimensions and arranged them in a perpendicular fashion, thereby creating a 2 x 2 matrix. He designated each of the four cells in this matrix as an identity status. Each identity status represents a specific level of exploration (high or low) crossed with a specific level of commitment.

The identity statuses are achievement, moratorium, foreclosure, and diffusion. Achievement (high exploration, high commitment) represents the consolidation of a sense of self following a period of exploration. Moratorium (high exploration, low commitment) represents active exploration without commitment, and it often serves as a precursor to achievement. Foreclosure (low exploration, high commitment) represents adopting goals, values, and beliefs from parents or other authority figures without much critical thought. Diffusion (low exploration, low commitment) represents a pattern of apathy, disinterest, and lack of direction.

The identity status model is founded upon the relationships of the statuses to their component dimensions. In fact, the internal validity of the status model is dependent upon the existence of theoretically consistent relationships between each status and the underlying dimensions, exploration and commitment (e.g., a strong and positive relationship between foreclosure and commitment, and a strong and negative relationship between foreclosure and exploration). Empirical findings not consistent with the definitions of the statuses would call the model's fundamental assumptions into question, or would at least require a thorough explanation.

Identity theorists and researchers have often taken the relationships between the statuses and the underlying dimensions for granted; for example, some identity measures assign statuses explicitly based on participants' exploration and commitment scores (e.g., Balistreri, Busch-Rossnagel, & Geisinger, 1995; Grotevant & Cooper, 1981). To strengthen the scientific accuracy of these assumptions and techniques, empirical evidence that the statuses are related to exploration and commitment in ways consistent with the status model needs to be provided.

Measurement Issues

The ability of empirical evidence to support or challenge the fundamental assumptions of the identity status model is dependent upon the measurement techniques used to collect the data. Measurement in identity formation has lagged significantly behind the theoretical progress of the field (Schwartz, 2001). Most identity instruments are structured interviews or questionnaires assessing either (a) the degrees of exploration and commitment that characterize each participant or (b) the extent to which participants endorse statements characteristic of each identity status.

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