Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Influence of Appalachian Fatalism on Adolescent Identity Processes

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Influence of Appalachian Fatalism on Adolescent Identity Processes

Article excerpt

The influences of the fatalism frequently associated with Appalachian culture on adolescent identity processes were explored. The sample consisted of 91 Appalachian adolescents and 87 non-Appalachian adolescents. Participants completed measures of fatalism (operationalized in terms of higher hopelessness and lower optimism/efficacy scores) and Berzonsky's identity styles (information, normative, diffuse-avoidant). Findings indicated an association between fatalism and the diffuse-avoidant identity style. At the same time, Appalachian participants were found to be more fatalistic and to have a higher mean diffuse-avoidant score than the non-Appalachian participants. Analyses also revealed a significant gender difference in identity style. Implications for family and consumer sciences professionals are discussed.

Appalachia refers to the region that runs north to south along the Appalachian mountain range in the United States. Although Appalachia consists of all of West Virginia and parts of 12 other states, Appalachians most commonly are associated with people of Scotch-Irish descent whose families have lived in the more mountainous regions of central Appalachia (e.g., West Virginia and eastern Kentucky) for generations in relative isolation from the rest of the United States (Rural and Appalachian Youth and Families Consortium, 1996). This isolation helped foster the evolution of a culture that is, in many ways, unique.

One notable feature of Appalachian culture is fatalism, manifested in a tendency to live day to day, focusing on the present and giving little thought to the future (Bauer & Growick, 2003; Greenlee & Lantz, 1993; Lemon, Newfield, & Dobbins, 1993). It is reasonable to suspect that the fatalism characteristic of Appalachian culture could impinge upon developmental processes, placing many Appalachian youths on different developmental trajectories than their non-Appalachian counterparts.

Perhaps the most salient influences of fatalism involve identity processes. According to Erikson (1963, 1980), identity formation is the primary task of adolescence. Berzonsky (1989, 1997) suggested that individuals differ in the manner in which they process, interpret, and act upon identity-relevant information. Specifically, Berzonsky proposed three identity styles: informational, normative, and diffuse-avoidant. The informational style features a stronger orientation toward exploring and involves actively seeking, processing, and evaluating self-relevant information. The normative style is characterized by a less powerful orientation toward exploring, a concern with the standards and expectations of significant others (e.g., parents), and resistance to change and to information that challenges currently held beliefs and values. Finally, the diffuse-avoidant style is associated with procrastination and avoidance of dealing with personally relevant issues. The diffuseavoidant style generally is recognized as the least adaptive of the three and most associated with negative life outcomes (see Jones, Ross, & Hartmann, 1992; White & Jones, 1996; White, Wampler, & Winn, 1998). In contrast, the information style typically is regarded as the most adaptive style.

It was hypothesized here that a developmental context characterized by fatalism would not be conducive to exploration of identity issues because such a context discourages activities, including future viewing and exploration of alternatives, that lie at the heart of the identity process. Research was conducted to test this proposition. Specifically, it was expected that Appalachian adolescents would be more fatalistic than adolescents from outside of Appalachia and that the informational style would be less common, and the diffuse-avoidant and normative styles more common, among Appalachian adolescents.


The sample consisted of 93 White Appalachian adolescents and 87 White adolescents from outside of Appalachia. …

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