An examination of identity formation during adolescence: A person-oriented appraoch
Forthun, Larry F.
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The purpose of this research was to study the formation of a sense of identity during adolescence longitudinally, psychosocially, and developmentally. Based on the evidence that has accumulated over the past several decades, it was reasonable to conclude (a) that exploration and commitment are important processes in identity formation (e.g., Marcia's idendty status model), (b) that the process of forming an identity cannot be divorced from the context in which it occurs, and (c) that it is important to understand how adolescents respond to identity challenging information. The current study addressed each of these components by combining a longitudinal investigation of adolescents who were experiencing identity-relevant disruptions with a person-oriented developmental perspective. A sample of 20 adolescents were followed throughout their participation in a community based after-school program. The purpose of this study was not to evaluate the program; rather, to examine identity developmental processes among a group of adolescents who were experiencing identity-relevant disruptions in their lives. Each adolescent was interviewed at the beginning and end of their participation in the program using the Groningen Identity Development Scale. Using a qualitative analytical strategy, eight subgroups of adolescents were discriminated based upon variations in the configuration of identity relevant characteristics. The groups were discriminated based on themes of strength and congruence of commitments in identity relevant domains, level of exploration and openness to experience, the degree of attachment to parents, the degree of validation and belonging with peers, the adoption of a relevant belief system to guide their behavior (e.g., an ideology), and commitment to future scholastic and/or occupational goals. Supplemental questionnaires were also completed by the participants in this study and repeated measures ANOVAs suggest that the subgroups differed in the expected direction on many of the measures. Although the findings are not inconsistent with Marcia's identity status model, the adoption of a person-oriented developmental perspective allows the key concepts of commitment and exploration to be integrated with contemporary empirical and theoretical notions regarding identity formation without sacrificing a person-centered orientation.