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IDENTITY FORMATION AND MARCIA

Identity formation has many components -- physical, sexual, social, vocational, moral, ideological, and psychological characteristics (Rice, 1999).  It begins before adolescence and often extends beyond it, into adulthood.  Is identity something that is freely constructed or is it a result of the choices we make and the environment that we grow up in? Rangell, a psychoanalyst, believes that it may be “determined by our parents, then unconsciously chosen, and further elaborated by ourselves” (Bosma, Graafsma, Grotevant, & de Levita, 1994).  On the other hand, Marcia believes that identity is formed because of one’s gender, the time in which one is born, and one’s ethnic background.  Van der Werff defines identity as “the combination of essential psychic qualities which characterizes and differentiate the person (Bosma et al., 1994 ).  What seems to be a clear unchanging notion of all is that the definition that a person’s identity always remains the same, despite changes.   It is a never-ending process of reflection and transformation as one moves through life.

               As we consider developmental distinctions in personalities and identity formation several theorists come to mind.  A chief theorist in the field of psychosocial development, Erik Erikson, has developed a theory on identity formation.  This theory is composed of 8 “psychosocial” stages or conflicts through which individuals progress through over the course of development.  During each stage the individual encounters a task, and that task produces a conflict, with two possible outcomes.   If the individual resolves the conflict successfully, positive identity is formed, and further development can occur.   According to Erikson, the overall task of the individual is to acquire a positive ego identity (Ormrod, 2000).  Finally, if the individual is able to resolve these 8 conflicts a “firm identity” appears.

            Among the many studies relating to Erikson’s concepts are those by James Marcia, focusing on adolescence identity formation.  Why do we perceive ourselves as we do?  What exactly makes us who we are? Since the mid-1960’s extensive research has been conducted to in attempt to validate these questions.    Marcia offered a model to explain ways in which individuals engage in the task of identity formation.   In Marcia’s identity status model he describes four clearly differentiated identity statuses based on the amount of exploration and commitment that the adolescent is experiencing or has experienced (Meeus, 1996).  He interprets identity as an ego-driven — an internal, self-constructed and dynamic organization of aspirations, skills, beliefs, and individual history (Meeus, 1993).  This paper will examine Marcia’s identity status model and will then conclude how James Marcia’s theory of ego driven identity formation plays a part in the identity formation of adolescence. 

            According to Marcia, to achieve a mature identity one has to have experienced a crisis and has to become committed to that ideology. The two components of a mature identity are crisis and commitment.  Crisis refers to the adolescent’s period of engagement in choosing among meaningful alternatives; commitment refers to the degree of personal investment the individual exhibits (Ormrod, 2000).  With the aim of those two components in mind, Marcia has developed four basic identity statuses: identity diffused, foreclosure, moratorium, and identity achieved.  His paradigm assumes that identity formation is domain specific (Meeus, 1993).   That is adolescents will or may have a distinct identity status in these four domains – occupation choice, sex roles, politics ideology, and religion. 

Identity Diffused.  Adolescents who are in this status have not experienced an identity crisis.  They have not made any commitments regarding religion, sex roles, a political standing, or an occupation.  Many young adolescents characterize this status.  However through time, the pressure from peers, parents, and society help many to wrestle with these crisis decisions.  One should be aware that if an adolescent spends a prolonged time in the identity diffused stage without further development it may “lead to personal disintegration, thus becoming a diagnosis of psychopathology that may lead to schizophrenia” (Rice, 1999, p.184).  These individuals are often confused and are overwhelmed, therefore so no need and make little effort to tackle the decisions that lead to identity formation.

            Foreclosure.  Adolescents in this phase of development are most likely have not experienced a crisis.  However, they may have already made commitments to occupations and ideologies that have been enforced by parents, society, or any other outside force other than their own.  An example of an individual in this phase might say that they want to become a teacher because their mother is a teacher.    For that reason, foreclosed adolescents are unable to distinguish between their own goals and interests and the ones that their parents make for them.  Individuals who remain in the foreclosure stage for a long period of time often make choice without thinking too long about them.  As a result they may marry at a young age, as well as make hasty decisions without using the appropriate thought process.

            Moratorium. The word moratorium means a period of delay granted to someone who is not yet reading to make a decision or assume an obligation (Rice, 1999, p. 185).  Adolescents in this phase are experiencing crisis, but many at once without making commitments.  Consequently, they often feel perplexed, unbalanced, and dissatisfied.  These adolescents often act out in rebellious ways and are uncooperative as a means to not deal with the anxiety felt by these confused individuals.  They have not yet found an acceptable identity and are still investigating their options.

            Identity Achieved.  These individuals have experienced and resolved crisis carefully and have evaluated all the their options.  They have come to these conclusions and made decisions on their own.  Once an identity has been achieved, there is a self-acceptance, a stable self-definition, and a commitment to a vocation, religion, and political ideology (Rice, 1999).  However, there is still anxiety involved with these individuals – after they have set goals for themselves, they still worry about achieving them.  Many individuals do not reach this stage before the graduation of high school primarily because they still live with their parents and are under their rules.  Even upon entering college, many still do not develop an achieved identity.  Eighty percent of students change their majors during their four years of college (Rice, 1999).  These adolescents are often not adolescents when they have deliberately chosen a specific identity for themselves. 

            Most of the identity research conducted in the 30 years has used Marcia’s Identity Status Interview.  The interview is designed to determine whether the individual has experienced a crisis and or has made any commitments regarding sex roles, politics, occupation, and religion.  Many studies have interpreted Marcia and his theories of identity development to determine different aspects of identity development in adolescents. Researchers have utilized Marcia’s Identity Status Interview to prove assumptions such as, identity statuses of male and female adolescents with divorced parents, the development of occupational identity, or the development of spiritual identity.

            In a recent study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence by Patricia V. Imimbo (1995) determining the identity status of male adolescents with divorced parents, it was hypothesized that males would find the achieved identity less often than would females.  The subjects were 57 females and 39 males ranging in age from 17 to 25, and were white middle class college students.  These students must have lived with their mother and their parents must have divorced 4 years or longer.  Along with other inventories, Marcia’s Identity Status Interview was used.  Results were reported under two headings: differences based in gender and relationships between identity status and perception of parental behavior.  Of the 57 females it was determined that 14 were identity achieved, 19 were moratorium, 14 were foreclosed, and 10 were in identity diffused.  Of the 39 males, 7 were identity achieved, 10 were moratorium, 10 were foreclosed, and 12 were diffused.  When applying Marcia’s Identity Status Interview to the four domains, females were found in the identity achieved status within the domains of occupation and sex roles considerably more regularly than were males.  Males and females also differed in their perceptions of their mother’s behavior, with males perceiving their mothers as more accepting and less controlling than females. 

            It appears that growing up with a single mother can have different impacts on the development of identity between males and females.  For females, divorce was a push toward independence.  They seemed more driven to explore and then commit themselves to a firm career and relationship, while achieving a positive identity.  One explanation of these findings is that males in this study did not have the benefit of same-sex parent living arrangements.  It may also be that the issues in the relationship between boys and their single mothers interfere with progress in exploration and occupational commitment (Imbimbo, 1995).  In conclusion, the absence of the father and the altered responsibility of the mother appeared to have a differential impact on males and females who have grown up in mother-custody families. Marcia’s Identity Status Interview, along with others, seemed to be a valid and formative means of determining the identity formation process of college students living with their divorced mother.

            Another study published in Adolescence by Wim Meeus (1993) posed two questions: 1) how does school performance influence occupational identity formation and 2) how does social support, by means of personal networks, influence the formation of occupational identity? Occupational identity refers to the development of the occupation domain defined by Marcia.       

            Three hundred adolescents, whose average age was just over eighteen years of age, participated in a survey called the Dellas Identity Status Survey, which was used to measure occupational identity.  It contains questions that allows ascription to a student of one of the identity statuses proposed by Marcia (Meeus, 1993).  This survey is different tfrom Marcia’s Identity Status; it does however determine the identity status of the individual according to Marcia’s Identity Status Model. 

            Of the 294 respondents (data for the 6 respondents could not be used because of missing data), 261 (89%) of the participating adolescents could be classified.  The results indicated that the distribution of the identity statuses were as follows:  identity achievement, 17%; moratorium, 28%; foreclosure, 15%; and diffusion, 40%.  A significant relationship between school performance and occupational identity was determined.  School performance of 91% of those to the identity achievement status was good; for those in moratorium and foreclosure, 70%; and diffused, 60% (Meeus, 1993).  Results also concluded that students in the identity achievement and moratorium statuses experienced more social support from friends regarding school than did those on the foreclosure and diffused statuses.

            The Dellas Identity Status Survey seemed an adequate instrument for measuring the formation and development of occupational identity in terms of Marcia’s Identity Status Model.  Approximately 90% of the respondents can readily be classified as belonging to one of the four identity status categories (Meeus, 1993).  Marcia’s Identity Status Model seemed to be a sufficient means of determining development of adolescents.

            Marcia’s Identity Status Model is also used to interpret the religious identity of individuals.  An article published in the Journal of Jewish Education, by Shrage Fisherman (2000), presents a model of development of religious identity developed by Herbert (1993), which is an expansion of Marcia’s Identity Status Model.  Interviews and discussions of 623 adolescents who were raised and educated a in religious society validated Herbert’s theory of ego identity development.  The model’s aim is to describe the development of religious faith as a central component of the religious identity of male adolescents raised in religious homes.  The three levels of religious identity development, as discussed by Fisherman are healthy, unhealthy, and dangerous.    The model may also be used to assess the state of specific religious teenagers in order to help them choose among the norms prevalent in religious society (Fisherman, 2001). 

During healthy development adolescents discard childish faith, face, deliberate about their doubts and consolidate a mature and personal spiritual identity.   Unhealthy development, which may occur if doubts are not accepted and dealt with, is seen in four forms: sloganeering, diffuse spiritual identity, moratorium, and emphasis on ritual and behavioral aspects of religion.    Consequently, adolescents in this phase may develop a dangerous development, such as joining a cult or the excessive use of drugs or alcohol (Herbert , 1987).

According to Marcia, adolescents who have dealt with their identity crises in a healthy manner guarantee an effective process of dealing with their identity problems (Fisherman, 2000).  Identity formation is affected by previous stages of the child’s development and then is influenced later in identity crises later in life.  Herbert uses Marcia’s Identity Status Model to help determine identity formation development in his model, while determining the status of spiritual identity rather efficiently. 

In conclusion, identity formation has many components.  It often begins at the start of adolescence and continues to grow and form as we struggle or thrive through life.  There have been many theorists that have attempted to explain the development of identity formation.  However, Erik Erickson presented one of the key theories involving identity formation.  Elaborating form Erickson, Marcia demised his Identity Status Model according to how adolescents form identity.  The presence or absence of crisis and commitment can combine in various ways to produce four different identity statuses.  

Identity Development has been explained and interpreted using Marcia’s Identity Status Interview by researchers.  It is proven to be a valid and reliable instrument in determining the status of identity development in adolescents.  His model has captured the attention of researchers, students, and practitioners interested in how adolescents develop, or their lack of development, meaningful vocational aspirations, ideological values, and forms of sexual expression appropriate within given social contexts (Kroger, 2000).    Marcia’s theory of ego driven identity formation plays a vital part in the identity formation of adolescents as seen in years of published research.  Marcia believes that adequate identity formation is a cornerstone of sound psychological health (Weiten, 1997).  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RESEARCH FINDINGS:  IDENTITY FORMATION AND MARCIA

Among the many studies relating to Erikson’s concepts are those by James Marcia, focusing on adolescence identity formation.  Why do we perceive ourselves as we do?  What exactly makes us who we are? Since the mid-1960’s extensive research has been conducted to in attempt to validate these questions.  Marcia interprets identity as an ego-driven — an internal, self-constructed and dynamic organization of aspirations, skills, beliefs, and individual history (Meeus, 1993).    He offered a model to explain ways in which individuals engage in the task of identity formation.   In Marcia’s identity status model he describes four clearly differentiated identity statuses based on the amount of exploration and commitment that the adolescent is experiencing or has experienced (Meeus, 1996).

Achievement

Individuals who have explored alternatives and have deliberately chosen a specific identity

Moratorium

Individuals who are still examining different alternatives and have yet to find a satisfactory identity

Foreclosure

Individuals whose identity is determined largely by adults, rather than from personal exploration of alternatives

Diffusion

Individuals who are confused or often overwhelmed by the task of achieving an identity and are doing little to achieve identity

 

            The purpose of this study was to determine if there was a difference between the stages of identity development between ages, as Marcia assumes there will be.  A survey contained questions that would indicate the level of development was administered to 8th graders and seniors.  It is hypothesized that there would, in fact, be a difference between levels of development within the two groups.  Seniors are more likely to be in the Achievement Stage of development, were as 8th graders are more likely to be in a stage lower than those in the Achievement Stage.  

PARTICIPANTS

            The participants in this study were 27 high school seniors and 31 high school 8th graders.  The ages of the 8th graders ranged from 13-15 years of age, with the average age being 14.  The ages of the seniors ranged from 17-18 years of age.  The gender of the participants varied.   

ENVIRONMENT

            This study was conducted at the Sullivan County High School.  The participants were given the survey during their afternoon English class.  I asked two teachers to explain briefly what the students would expect form the survey and why they were being asked to participate.  I was not present during the completion of the survey.

ITEMS

          The survey that was used in is study was an adopted version of Stephen Wallace’s survey from The University of Alabama. A shortened, 7 question version, was administered.  The survey was designed to determine what stage of identity; according to Marcia identity theory, were the participants in at that particular stage in their life. 

*A copy of the survey is attached.

PROCEDURES

          This study was conducted very simply.  Their teachers gave the survey to the participants during their English class.  They were told why they were taking the survey and that they should try to take it seriously.  The surveys were completed and I picked them up at the end of the day.  The data was then transformed using the SPSS program to show the differences between the grades. 

RESULTS

            Results indicated a significant difference in 3 of the 7 survey questions between the two grades.  Question 1 asked: Which statement best describes your perception about who you are as a person at this point in your life.  The majority of the 8th graders responded with the answer—I am still searching to discover the real me.  That answer mimics a person in the Moratorium Stage of development.  On the other hand, the seniors when answering the same question, answered with an answer that would mimic one in the Achievement Stage of development – I have discovered the person that want to be.

            The other area of significant difference was with question 3, concerning who has the most impact on their decision-making.  The majority of 8th  graders replied with the answer – I attempt to make the best decisions, but am not always confident in my ability to make the best decisions for me.  This answer is an indicator that that person is in the Moratorium Stage of development.  The seniors answered – I find that I am capable to identify options, evaluate alternatives, and make what I believe are the best decisions for me.  This answer indicated that this person is again in the Achievement Stage.   

            The last area of significant difference was question 7: Which statement best describes your feelings about choosing a career or college?  Most of the 8th graders answered with a Foreclosure Stage answer – I feel that I don’t have much choice in what I selected and that I’m stuck with it.  Again, the seniors answered with an Achievement Stage answer – I weighed various options and am confident that I made the right selection for me. 

            There were no significant differences between the females and the males of any age. 

CONCLUSION

            According to Marcia, by the end of high school or college should be a time of maximum identity development, or the Achievement Stage.  These individuals have experienced and resolved crisis carefully and have evaluated all the their options.  They have come to these conclusions and made decisions on their own.  However, there is still anxiety involved with these individuals – after they have set goals for themselves, they still worry about achieving them.  Individuals who do not reach this stage before graduation of high school is primarily because they still live with their parents and are under their rules.  These characteristics depict the seniors that answered the questions with answers that infer identity achievement.      

            The 8th graders that were characterized with the Moratorium Stage displayed answers typical of what Marcia identified were typical in that stage.   The word moratorium means a period of delay granted to someone who is not yet ready to make a decision or assume an obligation (Rice, 1999, p. 185).  Individuals in this phase are experiencing crisis, but many at once without making commitments.  Consequently, they often feel perplexed, unbalanced, and dissatisfied.  These individuals often act out in rebellious ways and are uncooperative as a means to not deal with the anxiety felt by these confused individuals.  They have not yet found an acceptable identity and are still investigating their options.  This was definitely seen and observed in the answers given by the 8th grade students.  

 

 

 

In conclusion, the theory of identity formation proposed by Marcia does seen to hold true.  The answers specified by the different grades were typical of those grades and ages.  There was, in fact, a difference in identity development between the two groups proven by the surveys.