Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Identity Development of Gifted Female Adolescents: The Influence of Career Development, Age, and Life-Role Salience

Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Identity Development of Gifted Female Adolescents: The Influence of Career Development, Age, and Life-Role Salience

Article excerpt


In this study, the influence of career exploration and commitment, life-role salience, and chronological age on identity development in gifted female adolescents was examined. A set of factors, including vocational exploration and commitment, commitment to the role of work, and participation in the role of studying, explained 43.3% of the variance in the identity development of the gifted females who participated in the study. Of these factors, vocational exploration and commitment contributed the most to identity development. Based on results of this investigation as well as past research, the authors emphasize the need to expand efforts to enhance career exploration opportunities for all adolescents, especially gifted females.

For all individuals, including the academically gifted, adolescence is a critical and challenging developmental period. An individual's approach to the adolescent challenges of rapid physical and psychosocial change has a lasting impact on his or her adult life. Part of the challenge of adolescence is the formation of an identity, including self-definition and a commitment to goals, values, beliefs, and life purpose (Waterman, 1985). This process includes an exploration of work and lifestyle options, ideological beliefs, and social roles (Bishop, MacyLewis, Schnekloth, Puswell, & Strussel, 1997). Due to their advanced reasoning capabilities, the academically gifted have the added challenge of evaluating alternatives and options at an earlier age than their peers. Therefore, they have the potential to progress early and rapidly in identity development and to explore and make tentative commitments in the career domain.

Although there is much research on identity development as it relates to career, little of it specifically examines academically gifted adolescents (Leung, 1998). In particular, there is a need to examine the factors that affect identity development in gifted female adolescents. Although research regarding the identity development process in gifted females has increased during the past decade, continued empirical inquiry, particularly as it relates to vocational decision making, has been recommended (Eccles, 1985; Howard-Hamilton & Franks, 1995; Kelly & Cobb, 1991). This study explores the identity development of academically gifted female adolescents and its relationship to career exploration and commitment, life-role salience, and age.

Identity Development

The salience of identity during adolescence is perhaps most cogently expressed in Erik Erikson's work. According to Erikson (1963, 1968), healthy personality development is based on successful completion of tasks at each of eight stages of development. During adolescence, individuals are faced with the task of developing an independent identity. Successful accomplishment of this task involves integrating various aspects of the self, including the working self, the relational self, and the ideological self (Erikson, 1968; Josselson, 1987).

Marcia (1966, 1980), in extending Erikson's theory, posited four paths or statuses that could be taken to resolve the task of identity formation. These four statuses are defined along the dimensions of crisis and commitment, where crisis refers to the exploration and consideration of alternatives, and commitment refers to an investment in ideological or interpersonal issues (Blustein, Devenis, & Kidney, 1989; Josselson, 1987). The four statuses are identity diffusion (no crisis or commitment), identity foreclosure (commitment without crisis), moratorium (crisis without commitment), and identity achievement (crisis followed by commitment; Josselson; Marcia, 1966).

Adolescents in identity diffusion are characterized by an incomplete sense of self, minimal attention to vocational goals, and unrefined values. Adolescents in identity foreclosure move toward role commitment prematurely, frequently adopting values or plans of adults without fully examining them. …

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