The Identity Status of African Americans in Middle Adolescence: A Reexamination of Watson and Protinsky (1991)

Article excerpt

Few studies have assessed the identity development of African American middle adolescents. Hauser (1972), using Marcia's (1966) Identity Status Interview, found that African American middle adolescents were overrepresented in the foreclosed identity status (identity commitment without ever having considered alternatives; there has never been a crisis, and the choice of identity may be as much an authority figure's as it is the individual's). In a more recent study, however, Watson and Protinsky (1991), administering a revised version of the Extended Objective Measure of Ego Identity Status (EOM-EIS), found that African American middle adolescents did not experience identity foreclosure to a greater extent than did their Caucasian peers. In fact, most (79.3%) had not yet made identity commitments in the ideological domain (occupation, religion, politics, and lifestyle). Watson and Protinsky's findings support the work of Erikson (1968), who argued that although the identity crisis begins at the onset of adolescence, the critical period for solidifying identity is late adolescence (ages 18-22). That is, due to childhood identifications and lack of experience with the adult world, middle adolescents (14-18) usually have not crystallized an identity (Adams & Jones, 1983).

Watson and Protinsky (1991) assessed identity status in the ideological domain but not the interpersonal domain. The purpose of the present study was to investigate whether their findings for the ideological domain would be replicated in another sample of African American middle adolescents and, further, to determine whether similar results would be found for the interpersonal domain.



Forty-nine students from various high schools in north-central Florida participated in this study. One student provided insufficient information and was dropped from the analysis. Sixty percent (29) were male (mean age = 16.2 years, SD = 1.5) and 40% (19) were female (mean age = 15.7 years, SD = 1.6).


Bennion and Adams (1986) found that the EOM-EIS did not measure the interpersonal domain as consistently as the ideological domain. They consequently revised the less reliable items to produce the EOM-EIS II, which Marcia (1993) has called the "most highly developed and validated group-administered questionnaire assessing identity status" (p. 17). The EOM-EIS II is a 64-item self-report questionnaire, with responses measured on a 6-point Likert scale. Ideological identity is assessed in four areas: politics, religion, occupation, and lifestyle. Interpersonal identity is also assessed in four areas: dating, recreation, gender roles, and friendship. Two items reflecting the achievement, moratorium, diffusion, and foreclosure identity statuses are presented for each of these eight areas.


The purpose of the study was explained to the students, and they were assured that their responses would remain confidential. They took approximately 40 minutes to complete the EOM-EIS II.

Students were classified into one of six categories - achievement, moratorium, foreclosure, diffusion, low-profile moratorium, and transitional - according to the method developed by Adams, Shea, and Fitch (1979). Students were categorized as low-profile moratorium when a significant difference between identity statuses could not be detected; that is, these students were not clearly in any identity status, which Adams et al. (1979) defined as a type of moratorium. Students with two identity statuses (e.g., achievement-moratorium, foreclosure-diffusion) were categorized as transitional.


Identity Status by Domain

In terms of the ideological domain, 46.8% of the students in the Watson and Protinsky study were classified as transitional, as compared with 19% of the students in the present study (see Table 1). Sixty percent were classified as either moratorium or low-profile moratorium, whereas Watson and Protinsky found that 21. …


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