Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Adolescents in Different Contexts: The Exploration of Identity through Possible Selves

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Adolescents in Different Contexts: The Exploration of Identity through Possible Selves

Article excerpt


The research studied the role of context in identity exploration during adolescence. In particular, the research investigated whether the belonging to an 'at risk' context has an impact on self-perception construction as well as on possible-selves exploration. Two questionnaires - Self Perception Profile for Adolescents (SPPA, Harter, 1985) and Possible Selves Questionnaire (PSQ, Oyserman & Markus, 1990) - were administered to 105 participants (21% male and 79% female) from an Italian city (Naples), aged between 14 - 18. Youths were taken from two sub-samples which were distinguished by life contexts. This research used a mixed approach. The results showed different productions of possible selves in function of the context, thus agreeing with our hypothesis. The impact of context was more evident in the dimension of the feared self, in particular for the 'at risk' participants. The role played by the feared self in the identity construction of participants belonging to the "at risk" context was complex. The results are useful in planning intervention projects for the 'at risk' schools.

KEYWORDS: identity exploration, possible selves, normative and nonnormative contexts, adolescence, mixed approach.

One of the dominant aspects of human experience is the compelling sense of one's unique existence (Bruner, 2002, 1994). This individual search for meaning, as Bruner (1996, 2002) suggested, is synthesised in the self concept, or in the construction of one's own identity. Self can be a synthesis, a personalised and subjective cluster of different dimensions: current self, relational self, past, future and possible selves, unconscious self, and so on.

Contemporary studies on identity, from many perspectives, link this assumption with Erikson's (1950) postulate: self-definition is the most important challenge for adolescents. This study has been conducted within the theoretical framework of ego-identity development from a psychosocial perspective, in accordance to Erikson (1968, 1980) as well as in light of the study on self as a synthesis of separate life domains and 'global self-worth' (Harter, 1985, 1990). Global self-worth represents a cognitive-developmental acquisition used to construct a concept of one's worth as a person, describing perception as well as the extent to which one likes oneself as a person, with it being based on the perceived view from significant others (Harter, 1985).

Several previous studies reveal that perceived support from significant others is a powerful predictor of global self-worth (Harter 1990, 1999; Rosenberg, 1979), providing a confirmation of the importance of support from adults and peers during adolescence (Harter, Waters, & Whitesell, 1998). According to Cooley's looking-glass self concept, opinions of significant others are incorporated into one's sense of self-worth (Cooley, 1902). Moreover, self-perception has been shown to reflect both developing cognitive abilities as well as social circumstances (Altman Klein, 1995; Dusek & Flaherty, 1981; Stanwyck, 1983). Social components become important in later childhood (Frey & Ruble, 1985) and adolescence (Allison & Schultz, 2001).

Specifically, Marcia (1966) has operationalised Erikson's concept of identity formation during adolescence as a process that involves two dimensions: exploration and commitment. The first is a process in which the individual actively searches for his own identity through different options, goals, actions and beliefs. While, the second represents the actual resolution of identity issues assumed by the individual and the degree to which the individual has made choices about important identity-relevant issues (i.e., commitment making). Hence, commitment is the act of adhering to selected goals or beliefs.

Exploration and the future are linked during adolescence, due to the future (e.g., projecting of oneself in adulthood) being an important component of the selfconcept (Mc Guire & Padawe - Singer, 1976; Oyserman, Bybee, & Terry, 2006). …

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