Adolescence: Social and Personality Development

The Search for Identity

The search for identity is a key task of adolescence.

Eric Erikson proposed that questions such as “Who am I?” “What do I believe in?” and “How do I want to live my life?” reflect the pivotal crisis of adolescent personality development, which he termed identity versus role confusion. He coined the term “identity crisis” and believed that it can be resolved positively in adolescence, leading to a stable sense of identity, or can end negatively, leading to confusion over one’s identity and values.

James Marcia built upon Erikson’s work. He found that many adolescents are in a condition or “status” he called identity diffusion: They have not yet gone through an identity crisis and remain uncommitted to a coherent set of values or roles. Some may be unconcerned or cynical about identity issues. Adolescents in foreclosure adopt an identity without first going through a crisis, adopting a peer group or parent’s values without giving them much thought.

In contrast, two other groups experience an identity crisis. Adolescents in moratorium are currently experiencing a crisis but have not resolved it. They want to establish a clear identity, but are unsure which way to go. Adolescents in identity achievement have gone through a crisis and successfully resolved it. They have adopted a coherent set of values and are pursuing goals they are committed to.

Most young adolescents are in identity diffusion or foreclosure and have not experienced an identity crisis. With age, they experience identity crisis, and most successfully resolve it by young adulthood.

Identity Components

Our sense of identity actually has multiple components. These include:

  • Our gender, ethnicity, and other attributes by which we define ourselves as members of social groups (e.g. “student,” “son,” “artist”)
  • How we view our personality and other characteristics (“outgoing,” “timid”)
  • Our goals and values pertaining to areas we view as important, such as family and friends, career, religion, etc.)

We typically achieve a stable identity regarding some of these components before others, and changing situations may trigger new identity crises and cause us to re-evaluate prior goals and values.

Culture plays an important role in identity formation, influencing the way we view concepts such as “self” and “identity.” In individualistic cultures, sense of identity assumes that “I” am an autonomous individual with clear boundaries separating me from other people. In collectivistic cultures, the concept of “self” is traditionally based more strongly on the interdependence and connectedness between people, reflecting a person’s relationships with family members, friends, and others.


During adolescence, peer relationships become more important and intimate. Most teens maintain good relations with their parents.

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