Considering the Negatively Formed Identity: Relationships between Negative Identity and Problematic Psychosocial Beliefs


Shogo Hihara, Hiroshima University, Japan
Tomotaka Umemura, Hiroshima University, Japan
Kazumi Sugimura, Hiroshima University, Japan


Forming a firm sense of identity is one of the primary developmental tasks for young people, and a great deal of research has been conducted on identity development. However, contemporary research has still been limited by the fact that, in attempt to understand problematic identities, the main focus has been placed on how people fail to develop positive identities, with Erikson’s theory that identities consist of both positive and negative sides being neglected. A firm sense of negative identity is assumed to be one of the most severe outcomes of problematic identity resolution and is not regarded as simply equating to a lack of positive identity. Despite the limited empirical evidence on negative identity, theorists have proposed that youth with negative identities are likely to hold problematic beliefs in terms of how they relate to society. Specifically, they tend to divide many things in societies into two categories (i.e., friends or enemies) and express cynical hostility and distrust toward others/societies. The purpose of this study was to examine associations between young people’s sense of negative identity and their psychosocial beliefs (i.e., dichotomous beliefs, cynicism, and social distrust), which has been largely unexplored in empirical studies.


A total of 2313 young Japanese people (70.9% were female) aged 18–25 years (Mage=20.4, SD=1.6) answered the questionnaire. For negative identity, we used Twenty Statements Test and assigned participants to three identity content valence groups: positive, negative, and balanced identity groups. For psychosocial beliefs, we assessed dichotomous beliefs, cynicism, and social trust. To determine a comprehensive picture of the association between negative identity and psychosocial beliefs, we used both a variable-oriented approach, in which psychosocial beliefs are regarded as facets (i.e., these beliefs were treated as separate variables), and a person-oriented approach, in which psychosocial beliefs are considered profiles (i.e., these beliefs were characteristic of a person as a whole).


Regarding our variable-oriented approach analyses, a series of ANOVAs revealed that the negative identity group scored higher in dichotomous beliefs and cynicism, compared to the positive and balanced identity groups. The negative identity group also reported lower social trust, compared to the positive and balanced identity groups. Regarding our person-oriented approach analyses, we first performed latent profile analysis and classified respondents into six psychosocial profiles: High trust, Mid high trust, Moderate, Mid high hostile, High hostile, and Distant profiles. Then, using a chi-square analysis, we found that individuals in the negative identity group were more likely to be categorized into the High hostile profile, which was characterized by the highest dichotomous beliefs and cynicism and the lowest social trust.


This study added significant knowledge regarding the psychosocial beliefs of youth with negative identities, a topic that has largely been neglected in identity research to date. Our results demonstrated that negative identities are associated with problematic psychosocial facets, which was consistent with Erikson’s and other researchers’ theories concerning negative identity. Furthermore, we revealed that youth with negative identities were characterized by the high hostility psychosocial profile. In sum, the combination of both facets and profiles provided a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of if and how youth with firm negative identities have a problem with constructing relationships with societies. We hope that the findings of this study will inspire future research and open a novel path for researchers and practitioners regarding supporting youth who exhibit problematic beliefs and behaviors.

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