InstructorsStudentsReviewersAuthorsBooksellersContact Us
Textbook Site for:
Adolescence, First Edition
Paul Kaplan, Suffolk Community College, Brentwood
Chapter Summaries
Chapter 9: Self-Concept and Identity Formation

The Self, Self-Concept, Self-esteem and Identity Formation

Self-concept, self-esteem and identity are constructs that psychologists find useful in understanding peopleís development and behavior. The self-concept is the picture one has of himself/herself. Self-esteem is the valuation of particular elements of the self. Identity is the unique combination of personality characteristics and social styles that defines oneself and is recognized by others.

The Self in Adolescence
  1. William James argued that people can have multiple selves, just as they play multiple roles. Sociological theories claim that the self is formed as appraisals from others that are internalized. Cognitive psychologists argue that people create a theory of self and actively search for information about themselves. Humanistic psychologists argue that the self is partially formed through the individualís understanding of his/her own experience.

  2. Young children often define themselves in terms of possessions and activities. Elementary school children look at their characteristics and compare themselves with others, but adolescents define themselves in more abstract terms. Their descriptions are more complex and some of the traits are in conflict with each other.

  3. Early adolescents are not aware of these contradictions. During the middle years of adolescence, these contradictions bother teenagers and they are aware of acting phony or false. These contradictions are integrated during the late adolescent years. Discrepancies between the real self and the ideal self are troublesome, especially in middle adolescence.
Self-esteem in Adolescence
  1. High self-esteem is related to many positive outcomes, while low self-esteem is related to a number of poorer outcomes. The relationship between high self-esteem and positive outcomes is relatively low, though.

  2. A person may have high self-esteem in one area and low in another. High global self- esteem would be found if an individual evaluates himself/herself highly in domains of importance.

  3. Although self-esteem is relatively stable, if social support or positive evaluations of the self in areas of importance improve, self-esteem may increase as well. Self- esteem begins to decline in middle childhood as children become more sensitive to the evaluations of others and evaluate their own successes and failures. This reduction in self-esteem may represent a more realistic picture of themselves and evaluation of their abilities. Self-esteem continues to decline in early adolescence, but increases in middle and late adolescence. Generally, males have higher self-esteem than females. African Americans have self-esteem that is at least equal to that of white teenagers.

  4. Although high self-esteem is preferable to low self-esteem, people with an inflated self- esteem are characterized by defensiveness, anger, hostility and even aggression. They are seen as shallow and self-serving. People with high self-esteem that is unstable or who show narcissistic tendencies may also be defensive and hostile.

  5. The self-concept, self-esteem and identity formation in adolescence are influenced by cognitive development. The development of formal operational abilities, such as the ability to use abstractions, to separate the real from the possible, and to use hypothetical-deductive logic enable adolescents to develop a personal philosophy of life, a more abstract self-concept and a greater awareness of their self.
  1. Erikson argued that the positive outcome of the psychosocial crisis of adolescence is a solid sense of ego identity while the negative outcome is a sense of role confusion. While some psychologists consider identity as a coherent whole, others speak about identity in terms of different parts, such as a occupational identity or a religious identity.

  2. Erikson argued that identity formation entailed exploration (called crisis originally) and commitment.

  3. James Marcia suggested four identity statuses. Adolescents who are in the identity foreclosed status (identity foreclosure) have made commitments but have not experienced a crisis. Those in the identity diffused status (identity diffusion) have not meaningfully explored their alternatives, and avoid commitments. Those in the moratorium status (identity moratorium) are presently experiencing a crisis, but have not yet made commitments. Those in the identity achievement status have explored the issues and made commitments.†

  4. Although exploration is central to identity formation for both males and females, some psychologists argue that females base their identity on interpersonal factors and males on intrapersonal factors. Most recent studies emphasize the integration of interpersonal and intrapersonal factors for women.†
Male and Female
  1. Sex typing involves learning the behaviors and attitudes that are considered appropriate for oneís gender in a particular culture. Gender roles involve the expectations for the behaviors within a society for males and females. People still hold gender stereotypes, seeing men as agentic and women as more communal.

  2. Elementary children become somewhat more flexible regarding gender stereotyped behavior, but early adolescents become less flexible. In later adolescence, more flexibility is found. Females are more flexible than males.

  3. Learning gender roles is a complicated affair and many agents of socialization participate including parents, peers and the media. The learning processes of reinforcement and imitation are important. At the same time, people are active in forming a gender schema, a body of knowledge of how males and females behave. This gender schema guides behavior and influences how information is processed.
Ethnic/Racial Identity
  1. Many minority group youth may not have the same opportunities for exploration as majority group youth, due to poverty, differing cultural expectations and discrimination. Minority group members also develop a racial/ethnic identity.

  2. Minority group members who develop a bicultural identity, who see themselves as actively involved in both cultural environments, have the most flexible and adaptable identity.

  3. The meaning of the self and identity differ according to cultural expectations. Western societies see the self and identity in terms of becoming an independent individual and separating from others. Non-western societies often see the self and identity in terms of fitting into the group and define themselves in terms of group membership.
Placing The Self-Concept And Identity Into Perspective
  1. Parents may help adolescents find who they are by encouraging the adolescent to look at alternatives, showing them ways of overcoming barriers, accepting the fact that teens are not going to be carbon copies of the adults around them, encouraging communication, helping teens understand that a certain amount of confusion is typical, and showing possible consequences to their decisions.