Essay: The Developing Self This report involves conducting a replicate project of the study by Montemayor and Eisen (1977) concerning the self-conceptions among adolescents. The aim of the study is to evaluate the information, to contrast its outcome with the test previously undertaken by Montemayor and Eisen, and to evaluate, and compare the results. Introduction.
The Developing Self: Self-understanding refers to our awareness of a sense of our own identity as a person sharing qualities with all other people, and also refers to the sense of our identity as a person who is different from other people. Gender refers to the social and cultural dimensions of being male or female becoming conscious of the different roles assigned to men and women in our society. Self-understanding is a child’s cognitive representation or concept of the self. During infancy children come to recognise their own reflection in a mirror so they learn about their physical appearance. Self- understanding must include the idea that the child is a person and that there are many more people in the world; the child’s conception of self will be related to his/her concept of other people – Damon and Hart (1988). During infancy the researchers must make inferences about understanding of self and others; during middle childhood and adolescence the children can be interviewed and their responses to questions analyzed. As children get older there are changes in the way in which they describe other people by referring to their appearance or behaviour. The description will typically focus on ‘peripheral characteristics’ – Damon and Hart (1988) such as physical features and behaviour. They also describe themselves in terms of the play or activities that they engage in. As children get older by the age of 10 or 11 descriptions of other people are increasingly likely to include more ‘central characteristics’ such as references to personality or attitudes. During these years the social aspect of their life becomes more important and they tend as a result to describe themselves in terms of their social groupings.
In addition they also use social comparison as a means of describing themselves. A further change in children’s descriptions of other people is that older children are more likely to believe that personality and ability characteristics are stable features of an individual. If a group of 10 year olds see someone behave in a particular way they are more likely to predict that future actions will be consistent – Damon and Hart (1988). They will predict that a person who has just behaved violently will respond violently in other situations. This expectation of consistency, from one situation to another has clear implications for their self-understanding. Children know why they behave in a particular way – they cannot know another person’s intentions with the same certainty. Children also have more insight into their own feelings than the feelings of other people. Damon and Hart (1988) argue that this insight into intentions and feelings is the basis for a sense of identity and of the self’s continuity over time. They further argue that there are two ways of organizing the sets of beliefs that we have about ourselves. The first set of beliefs includes our sense of continuity over time, our uniqueness and our sense of having some control over our lives. Collectively these are referred to as the ‘self as subject’. The second set of beliefs refers to the way in which we define ourselves including our physical appearance, our social roles, our beliefs and our capabilities. Collectively these are referred to as the ‘self as object’. Changes in the understanding of the self as subject because they refer to changes in understanding of physical appearance. Another change which takes place is an increase in understanding of the self’s capabilities. Damon and Hart (1988) argue that there are clear developmental trends in self-understanding both in terms of self as subject and self as object. Self-esteem – the early instruments that were used to measure self-esteem in children tended to concentrate on measuring overall self-esteem. Children would be asked to respond to a variety of statements about different activities and those who indicated that they were competent in these activities were said to have a high level of self-esteem. More recently the instruments measure self-esteem separately in each of the domains covered. Harter’s Self-Perception Profile for Children (1990) measures children’s self-esteem in relation to school work, physical ability, social acceptance, physical appearance, behavioural conduct and an overall assessment of self worth. In addition the scale measures children’s overall feeling of self worth as a person. In addition to the self-report questionnaires, interviews with close family members and observational studies of the child in different environments would give a comprehensive account of the child’s esteem. During adolescence the ending of a friendship seems to be more distressing than at other times in life. Damon and Hart (1988) argue that this is due to the fact that adolescents understand the self in terms of interpersonal implications. Therefore, the loss of a friend threatens the adolescent’s self-understanding because they are more likely to understand themselves in the context of their relationships with other people. This suggests that there is a direct relationship between self-understanding and relationships with other people. Damon and Hart (1988) argue that relationships with authority figures undergo a number of changes during childhood and that these changes are associated with a growing understanding of self. They soon recognise that authority is related to particular expertise. When this view of authority figures is combined with our knowledge about the way in which children compare themselves to other people at a particular stage, children will begin to realise that there are limitations to the domains of expertise of authority figures. In modern Irish society men and women typically have different roles. As children get older they become increasingly aware of these roles and the implications for their future as men or women. Understanding the origins of these different roles is important as they have implications for a child’s sense of self. Development beyond childhood: It is clear that our society places very different demands on children and on adults, so becoming an adult implies taking on additional responsibilities. In Western societies what we refer to as adolescence is usually the period of time during which that transition takes place. This has led to some researchers suggesting that adolescence should not be considered as a stage in its own right but rather has a transitional period between childhood and adulthood – Coleman and Hendry (1990). It is clearly characterized by substantial change in the young people’s life. There is the physical transition to sexual maturity, which is accompanied by noticeable changes in height and body shape. Adolescence is also a time of growing independence from the family which will include changes in relationships with the parents. The cognitive changes also enable the adolescence to think about issues in a more abstract way than was possible during childhood. How long it takes for these changes will depend on a number of factors including, their family, their peer group, the society in which they live and the rate of maturing of their own bodies. Adolescence is a time when having one or more close friends may be of crucial importance. According to Erikson (1968) is that the peer group is important in attempts to establish a viable identity, this is in keeping with Erikson’s theory of the adolescent seeking out an identity – the peer group may provide models of possible new identities or be supportive of identities tried out by the adolescent. Friendships suggest that friends can serve as a way of checking out new ideas in a supportive environment providing emotional support. Erikson believed that peer groups were essential to a healthy identity development during adolescence. A society that is rapidly changing will make the search for identity prolonged and difficult – Erikson and Waterman (1985). Erikson believes that a mature sense of identity will typically follow a time of crisis when alternative identities may be explored. This process of forming a mature identity was further developed by Marcia’s (1980), The four statuses graph, who suggested that the process of identity formation could be classified along two dimensions and could be categorized into four statuses. The two dimensions are: - exploration - Degree of commitment. Located at the low levels of exploration and commitment is identity diffusion which implies that the individual has not yet experienced an identity crisis, nor has he or she made any commitment to a vocation or set of beliefs. Identity foreclosure is placed further along the dimension towards commitment. In this status the young person has never experienced a crisis but has nevertheless made a firm commitment towards a set of beliefs. This status is seen most commonly in adolescents who primarily seek the approval of others for their actions, and who are less thoughtful and reflective. Because they avoid the search for possible roles in life they never discover other potentials and they have completely lost out on the possibility of self- definition. Moving higher up the dimension of exploration is the status known as ‘moratorium’. The person who is experiencing a moratorium is actively seeking a new identity and would be experiencing the crisis, which Erikson spoke about. The term identity crisis originates with the apparent confusion, which many adolescents feel about the choice of roles in adult life. The crisis implies the childhood sense of self as been lost and that a new sense of identity or self has not yet been found. Finally, the fourth status is ‘identity achievement’ which is high both on exploration and commitment. The person who has achieved a sense of his/her identity has successfully come through the moratorium and having explored a number of possible ideologies and social roles has opted for those with which he/she feels most comfortable with and committed. Some research finding suggests that adolescents with identity diffusion are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Other research reports higher levels of anxiety, inattentiveness and behaviour problems in adolescents with moratorium and achievement status compared with foreclosure and diffusion. This may be because not all identity achievers were comfortably integrated within themselves. Marcia’s work has further advanced the theory of identity formation through the identification of the four statuses. The implication of these statuses for the emotional well-being of the adolescent as been debatable. Cross-sectional studies of the years of adolescence and early adulthood, however, suggest that the whole process of identity formation may occur later than Erikson thought when it occurs at all. In one combined analysis of eight separate cross-sectional studies. Waterman (1985) found that the identity achievement status occurred most often in college, not during high school years. These are all aspects of self-concepts, in Piagetian language, self-scheme. The self-concept serves as a sort of filter for experience, shaping our choices and affecting our responses to others. Because these beliefs and attitudes about ourselves are so central to our personality and hence to our behaviour. Over the elementary school years the concrete self-concept gradually shifts towards a more comparative, more generalized self-definition, what Christie termed the ‘abstract categorical self’. Outline of the Study by Montemayor and Eisen (1977). A number of themes are illustrated in the study by Montemayor and Eisen (1977) of self-concepts in 9 – 18 year olds. These researchers found that the younger children in the study were still using mostly surface qualities to describe themselves. Thus as the child moves through the concrete operations period, their self-definition becomes more complex, more comparative, less tied to external features, more focused on feelings and ideas. This trend toward greater abstraction in the self-definition continues during adolescence. Methodology. For the purpose of conducting the project, I have chosen four teenagers, two in early adolescence aged 12 and 14 years old both male and two in late adolescence aged 16 and 17 years old, one male and one female. All came from the same geographical area in Dublin. All the subjects were still in full-time second level education. Each individual was tested individually. The procedure involved handing the participant a response sheet with 20 numbered spaces, and asking the participant to complete all 20 blanks, each time giving one answer to the question ‘Who am I?’. Summary of the results. Each of the participants responses where sorted into a number of different categories such as, physical appearance, personality, relationships, ideology and gender. The two younger participants responses to the question ‘Who am I?’, included descriptions of their external qualities, but also emphasizes their beliefs, the quality of their relationships, but their general personality traits i.e. name, gender, physical appearance such as hair colour, etc. In the older participants, the self-concept is even less tied to their physical characteristics and abilities, but more on abstract traits or ideology such as religious orientation, moods, personality traits, and less of the outside world and more on the participant’s idea of the self. Appearance seemed to become less dominant in the late adolescence descriptions, but ideology and beliefs were more salient. Other assumptions. Piaget’s assumption that the adolescence have reached formal operational thought and that the adolescent describes themselves in more abstract and idealistic terms. Not only are they able to describe themselves in abstract terms, they are also beginning to construct what is termed ‘their ideal self’. The discrepancy between the two is known as incongruence and some argue that when this discrepancy is too great then the individual may show signs of maladjustment – Rogers (1961). Generally this discrepancy between the real and the ideal is greater in middle adolescence than in early or late adolescence – Strachen and Jones (1982). Adolescence are able to identify that there are different aspects to the one person depending on the role one holds and/or the context one is in – Harter (1990). In adolescence, the basic process of creating the self-scheme takes on a new dimension, according to Erikson, who proposes that the central task of adolescence is that of establishing identity versus role confusion. Erikson argues that the child’s early sense of identity comes partly unglued at puberty with the onset of both rapid body growth and sexual changes Some researchers argue that adolescence use social comparisons more than children to evaluate themselves – Harter (1990). Each of the eight stages outlined by Erikson (1968) indicates that each stage of the personality is systematically related to all others and that they all depend on the proper development in the proper order of each preceding stage. Progress from one stage to the next is precipitated by what Erikson (1968) called ‘Crisis’. Crisis is used in a developmental sense and denotes a turning point. Adolescents are confronted with a myriad of psychological, physiological, sexual and cognitive changes. They are also meeting varied intellectual, social and vocational requirements. Conclusion. Outlining the results of the responses given by the participants, I would conclude that the results follow that found by Montemayor and Eisen, in that, the child’s self-concept, including the level of self-esteem, appears to be highly significant mediating concept. Other aspects of the adolescence self understanding is that they tend to be more self conscious than children are, and they work harder to protect themselves from admitting negative characteristics to their personality. I would conclude that the results seem consistent with the findings of others such has Montemayor and Eisen, concerning the concept of self in adolescence. I found that the results of the questionnaire were similar to those found by Montemayor and Eisen, in that has the child’s self concept becomes gradually less focused on external characteristics and more on stable, internal qualities. As outlined by Rosenburg (1986), Ruble (1987), the school-age child also views their own and other people’s characteristics as relatively stable, and for the first time the child develops a global sense of their own self-worth. Once such a theory of self is well established, once a global judgment of one’s self-worth is established, we can see reverberations throughout the child’s behaviour. The child systematically chooses experiences and environments that are consistent with their beliefs about them-selves. These beliefs are pervasive, many develop early, and although they are somewhat responsive to changing circumstances, they act as self-filling prophecies. The degree of emphasis parents place on the child performing well in some domain is an important element in forming the child’s aspirations in each area. Labels and judgments from others play a highly significant role. To a very considerable extent. We come to think of ourselves as others think of us Cole (1991). From all these sources, the child fashions his ideas about what he should be and what he is. Bibliography. Bee, H. (2000) The developing Child 9th edition, Allyn and Bacon. Coleman, J.C. and Hendry, L. 1990 The nature of adolescence London: Routledge, 2nd edition. Damon, W. 1988 The moral child, New York: Free Press. Erikson, E.H., 1986 Identity: Youth and crisis, New York: Norton. Harter, S. 1990 From childhood to adolescence: a transitional period? Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Koback, R. 1992 Research on adolescence, Washington, DC. Marcia, J.E. 1980 Identity in adolescence: New York: Wiley. Rogers, C.R. 1961 On becoming a person, Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Strachen, A. and Jones, D. 1982 Journal of personality assessment. Oscail 2000, Text 3. Waterman, A.S. 1985 Identity in the context of adolescent psychology, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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