Identity Formation of United States American and Asian Indian Adolescents
University of Detroit Mercy
There are many different theories and explanations about how personality develops in an individual. One such approach that remains relevant today is Erik Erikson’s theory of development and learning. Similar to Freud, Erikson theorized that personality develops in a preset order and that each stage builds upon earlier developmental stages. According to Erikson’s theory, during eight distinct stages, a person encounters a psychosocial crisis which could either help or hinder that individual’s personality development. Erikson described these phases as psychosocial because conflicts arise between a person’s psychological needs and societal needs. Those individuals who achieve each stage will emerge with a healthy personality and with virtues that can be used to address subsequent crises. Conversely, failure results in a reduced sense of self and an unhealthy personality, which Erikson believed could get resolved later.
In the article entitled Identity Formation of United States American and Asian Indian Adolescents, Graff, Mullis, and Mullis explore differences between US and Asian Indian adolescents in the fifth stage of Erikson’s theory. This stage describes the conflict between identity and role confusion in individuals between the ages of twelve and eighteen. The survey instrument employed was designed to measure the four different statuses of the identity crisis of late adolescence described by noted psychologist James Marcia. This paper will examine how the authors used the research data to suggest modifications to Erikson’s theory to help us to understand better how people develop different cultural, ethnic and racial group identities. It will also discuss the usefulness and limitations of this theory in explaining whether other aspects of identity such as gender and age have any potential influence on identity development.
According to the authors, the purpose of their study was to exam identity development among adolescent in the United States and India. They suggest this is important because the majority of existing research on identity formation has focused on Western cultures. Other authors have noted that there has been very little research on identity formation and family relationships, particularly within the Indian culture. Graff, Mullis, and Mullis presented four hypotheses for examination in their study. The first expected to find both similarities and differences in how identity develops among adolescents in the U.S. and India. The second hypothesis was that there would be different adolescent identity status patterns between the two countries. The third expected to find higher moratorium status among U.S. adolescents with higher levels of exploration and lower levels of commitment than Indian youth. It also predicted Indian teens would score higher in foreclosure with lower exploration levels and higher commitment levels than adolescents from the United States. Since identity statuses have different patterns based on gender, the study included gender as a moderating variable in the study. Based on this, the final hypothesis posed by the authors was that both countries would show different gender patterns in identity status. Researchers predicted that age would be an additional moderating variable and that adolescents in general from both countries would have lower exploration scores than older adolescents and that this would be true for both boys and girls.
The authors surveyed adolescents from public high schools in both India and the U.S., ages ranging from 13 and 18 years of age. In the Asian Indian sample, there were more males than females and more between the ages of 13 and 15 than between the ages of 16 and 18. In contrast, the United States samples were more females than males and more between the ages of 16-18 than 13-15 years of age. The study also considered other factors such as family composition, religious background, and education level of parents.
The survey instrument selected to measure the developmental process was the Extended Objective Measure of Ego Identity Scale. This survey’s foundation is the work of James Marcia, a psychologist who refined and extended the work of Erikson by identifying four statuses of identity development encountered by adolescents in the fifth stage of Erikson’s developmental model. The survey was designed to measure the levels of diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and achievement. Identity diffusion refers to a person figuring out who they are. It is common during this stage for adolescents to have not fully realized their social identity or defined their personality traits and there is no effort to do so. Identity foreclosure is the stage of self-identity exploration in which an individual has established an identity, but hasn’t actively explored other alternatives or options. Most common in young adolescents, in this stage the individual adopts the traits and qualities of parents and friends. Identity moratorium is a period of identity development that occurs after the adolescent stage of identity diffusion and is generally considered the most prolonged period of that development. It is a period where the adolescent actively searches and explores alternatives to current situations. This stage manifests as a time where a person questions their earlier choices. For example, whether or not to change college majors, whether to marry or remain single or while exploring their sexual identity. Once these questions are resolved a person finally approaches the stage of identity achievement in which the individual finds their genuine sense of self. Identity achievement occurs after the adolescent has undergone some crisis (exploration) and now fully commits to a particular identity. All surveys were administered in English utilizing the same protocol. Students were given thirty minutes to complete the questionnaire.
The research revealed that three of the four hypotheses were fully confirmed, and one was partially confirmed and partially inconclusive. As stated earlier, the researchers expected to find both similarities and differences in how identity develops among adolescents in the U.S. and India. The study showed that there were differences noted in three of the four statuses, but no difference was found for achievement, thus affirming the original statement that both similarities and contrast would be present. The second hypothesis proved partially true, as there were different identity patterns demonstrated by both countries. While the research affirmed that Indian youth would score higher in foreclosure, it also revealed higher scored in moratorium which the researchers did not predict. The third hypothesis suggested that the study would yield different gender patterns on identity status, which proved to be true. Finally, the study affirmed the fourth hypothesis that age was a moderating variable. There was a noted age difference in foreclosure, but the results confirmed that there was limited identity exploration by younger adolescents as hypothesized.
There were several additional noteworthy findings. First, this research supports the need to examine adolescent identity formation cross-culturally since the study revealed significant differences in three of the four identity statuses. Another significant finding is that the Asian Indian adolescents appear to be more diffused, foreclosed, and in moratorium in comparison to American adolescents. Overall, the research results provide strong support to the existing body of literature in that the most significant differences in identity formation occur in the diffusion and foreclosure status domains. Finally, it affirmed earlier studies that indicated younger adolescents are more foreclosed than older adolescents, and that teenage males in both cultures displayed increased identity foreclosure in comparison with adolescent females.
Although Erikson’s theory supposes a linear progression through the stages of identity development, when supplemented and expanded through Marcia’s four identity statuses, it becomes possible to more closely examine the impact of ethnicity, race, and culture on identity development. The evidence from this study showed this to be true based on apparent differences in status scores between adolescents in the U.S. and India. Further studies could reveal if there are similar differences with other ethnic and cultural groups. Although these results hold promise for future research, it may not be as easy when trying to determine the influence of other identity aspects such as gender or age on identity development. Culture, ethnicity, and race often get shaped by factors such as religion, household composition, income level, or parental education. Gender and age do not change based on these same factors, which makes it more difficult to isolate their influence on identity development.
One limitation noted by the researchers is that due to the sampling methodology, it may have limited applicability to the larger Indian and American adolescent population. As an example, the school in India is in an affluent, middle-class neighborhood in a large city, so findings may not translate accurately for youth in more rural areas. Another limitation is that the study does not indicate the racial composition of the group from the U.S. This may presume that there is no difference between sub-cultural groups. For example, it is impossible to tell whether any Asian Americans or African Americans participated in the study and if so, was there a difference in how they scored? Despite these limitations, his study affirmed the idea that Erikson’s model could be modified to expand the concept of identity to acknowledge that it does not always yield a unified self. Instead, it is composed of diverse elements which interact with each other. The authors suggest that future studies could examine the influences of family structure and parental education on identity formation. It might also prove valuable to conduct similar studies in other parts of Asia to determine if results are consistent with those in India.
Graf, S. C., Mullis, R. L., & Mullis, A. K. (2008). Identity Formation of United States American and Asian Indian Adolescents. Adolescence (San Diego): An International Quarterly Devoted to the Physiological, Psychological, Psychiatric, Sociological, and Educational Aspects of the Second Decade of Human Life, 43(169), 57-69.