Determinants of Adolescent Identity Development: A Cross-Sequential Study of Boarding School Boys

Article excerpt

This study sought to identify social and cognitive characteristics of adolescents associated with identity status. In brief, ego identity formation is the synthesis of external and internal forces by the individual who either enters into or remains remote from a crisis period of doubt and rebellion. It is the principal developmental goal of adolescence identified by Erikson (1956). Guided by Erikson's work (1956, 1963b), Marcia (1966) suggested four discrete ordinal levels of ego identity achievement: Identity Achievement, a status in which the adolescent has made an independent compromise between internal needs and social demands; Moratorium, a status in which the adolescent has postponed any decision or compromise, but considers all points of view; Foreclosure, a status in which the adolescent unreflectively adopts parental standards; and Diffusion, a status in which the adolescent has made neither a decision nor compromise, nor is there an active consideration of options. The decisions and commitments the adolescent makes are in the areas of occupation, religion, politics, and sexuality.

Marcia and his coworkers, and others, have shown the consequences of diffusion, or role confusion, to be associated with academic under-achievement (Cross & Allen, 1970; Waterman & Waterman, 1970; 1972), low self-esteem (Bunt, 1968; Gruen, 1960; Marcia, 1967), drug abuse (Marcia, 1976, 1980; Pack, Brill, & Christie, 1976), and a failure to establish intimacy at a later time (Constantinople, 1969; Orlofsky, Marcia, & Lesser, 1973; Raskin, 1985, 1986; Schiedel & Marcia, 1985; Whitbourne & Tesch, 1985).

On the positive side, success in meeting this adolescent challenge has been related to a flexible coping style (Marcia, 1966), academic achievement (Cross & Allen, 1970; Freilino & Hummel, 1985; Larkin, 1987; Marcia & Friedman, 1970; Orlofsky, 1978; Waterman & Waterman, 1970, 1972), nonauthoritarian commitments (Adams et al., 1984; Bourne, 1978; Marcia, 1967; Marcia & Friedman, 1970; Schenkel & Marcia, 1972; Toder & Marcia, 1973), and successful resolution of the intimacy crisis (Constantinople, 1969; Orlofsky, Marcia, & Lesser, 1973; Raskin, 1985, 1986; Schiedel & Marcia, 1985; Whitbourne & Tesch, 1985).

Several studies, as indicated, have identified directional change in identity status with time for some variables, but few seem to have isolated the specific correlates of this change. The present research examines the role of time, age, stress, health concerns, behavioral difficulties, independence from the family, social problem-solving, and child rearing values in connection with identity status among a group of adolescent males.



Subjects were 197 predominately white (92%), middle-class, male adolescents residing in a church-related boarding school in Virginia who volunteered to participate, and whose parents gave informed consent. Their ages ranged from 14.5 to 18.9 years (M = 16.4 years, SD = .93).

Experimental Design

A cross-sequential experimental design was employed (Baltes, Reese, & Nesselroade, 1977; Labouvie & Nesselroade, 1985; Schaie & Labouvie-Vief, 1974). Two cohorts of adolescents, one born in 1970 and one in 1969, were tested at two measurement times, June (Time 1) and December (Time 2) 1986. Two additional control groups, one from each cohort, were added to separate the effects of history from those of both cohort and age. These latter groups were assessed in December (Time 2) 1986. The school calendar creates a potential design confound. Cell 1 (M age = 15.6) may contain mostly juniors in December 1986 and Cell 4 (M age = 17.1) may contain mostly juniors in June 1986, while Cell 2 (M age = 15.6) may contain mostly sophomores in June 1986, and Cell 6 (M = 17.1) may contain mostly seniors in June 1986. Thus, the difference in class status between the two pairs of cells may confound any detected age effects. …


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