Psychological Identity Theory

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In order to achieve our identity, we should know who we are not alongside who we are. It is our ‘core identity’ that directs us towards knowing who we are. We also use our bodies to show our identities as well as to form them, the way in which our bodies work have an impact on our identity. Some people would use social mobility in order to achieve their identity in ways such as further education or socializing with people they feel they identify with. People’s identity can also alter between work and social groups.

A damaged brain can alter a persons identity, depending on the damage, for example, if someone suffers amnesia, they may not remember who they are or people around them, suffering an identity crisis and forming a new identity. One founder of modern psychology was William James, who, in 1890 produced the psychological identity theory. This essay aims to look at these and other theories on identity and how useful they are to our understanding of achieving our identity in today’s world.

Our personality and relationships with other people are factors that help us achieve our identity. Personal relationships, such as a parent or a wife was termed by Henry Tajfel (1971) as personal identity, while social identity included being a woman or white. The most common psychological method studies relationships and attempts to affect the results by introducing new variables depending on their chosen area of study. One common method for studying identity is the twenty statements test, devised by Kuhn and McFarland (1954).

People were given a time limit so they wrote down the first things that come to mind and so as to avoid changing their answers after thinking about it. They were asked to answer the question “who am I? ” by writing down 20 words or phrases to describe themselves both physically and how they see their roles in society. The method in which the twenty statements test was used, was criticized, as we are not totally conscious of some mental processes and so cannot accurately put them into words (Phoenix, 2011), although it does give us an insight as to how people see themselves and their place in society.

Tajfel et al (1971) published their study on identity, which is now a classic study on how we see ourselves and others (as cited in Pheonix, 2011). It was suggested by Tajfel et al (1971) that social identity derives from self descriptions of views and characteristics which are then divided into groups who share views and characteristics and is central to ‘social identity theory’. An important aspect for the developing of identity is solidarity within certain groups, different social categories are said to hold different amounts of power and status, as was vident in Jane Elliot’s experiment, separating blue-eyed and brown-eyed children. A book was published by Peters in 1987 called ‘A Class Divided’. The experiment was aimed, originally, at altering children’s attitudes towards each other. Elliot created a realistic conflict within two groups of children. The school teacher separated blue-eyed children and brown-eyed children and instructed one group to wear a collar which showed them to be the subordinate group, telling the class they were the less smart.

This experiment caused clear conflicts between the two groups. Name calling and viciousness towards the subordinate group became evident within the class of 7 year olds, showing that being categorized into the in-group for minor differences is enough to cause hostility. People tend to act in accordance with the stereotype they believe themselves to be. Social identity theory suggests that at the root of discrimination, is peoples drive towards achieving their identity.

According to Erik Erikson (1968), there are eight life stages, beginning with infants developing a sense of time, and ending late in life when bodily functions become weaker and mortality is realized (as cited in Pheonix, 2011) Erikson also suggested that identity is developed through the community in which we grow up, claiming that personal identity psychosocial, interlinked with society and so also our social identities (as cited in Pheonix, 2011).

Erikson claimed that identity involved an unconscious drive for continuity as well as a conscious sense of our individuality (1968) Erikson claimed that adolescence is a very important factor in achieving our identity as it is the period in which we go through an identity crisis, however, more phases are becoming evident and understood which argues that we can go through an identity crisis at any age , a midlife crisis, is a well heard of example of this.

Further studies on adolescence have shown there being no clear link to adolescence and identity crisis and that self esteem actually increases through this stage (Coleman and Hendry, 1990). It was argued by Lawrence Friedman, in his biography on Erikson, that he viewed identity crisis as universal due to him being a European Jew during the second world war and so having a troubled background himself (as cited in Pheonix, 2011) James Marcia (1966) devised a semi structured interview, concentrating on the identity statuses of adolescents.

James Marcia’s research looked at the process young people go through to achieve their identity and the extent of their commitments, in the form of their behavior and friendships. The interview included questions such as’ have you had any doubts about your religious beliefs’ and how willing do you think you would be to give up going into a career if something better came along? (as cited in Pheonix, 2011). Answers were then divided into categories such as their interests and tastes and their roles in society.

Marcia came up with four statuses, rating young people’s position on commitment and exploration. Identity achievement is what Marcia viewed as the most ideal status, in which young people have explored and achieved their current identity. Marcia suggested that the status of a young person’s identity has an impact on their future stages through life (as cited in Pheonix,2011). Using Marcia’s research method, a number of studies suggest that identity is not fully achieved in adolescence as social and personal events change our views and limitations and how we see ourselves throughout life.

Marcia’s research (1966, 1980, 1994) has provided a way to measure Erikson’s theory on identity by concentrating on adolescence, Erikson‘s fifth stage of development, Marcia could study any changes in their identity as participants ranged from thirteen to twenty-five years of age. (as cited in Pheonix,2011). We cannot achieve our personal identity without social factors and embodiment and vice versa as all three factors make up our identities.

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