Looking at the Dark and Bright Sides of Identity Formation: New Insights from Adolescents and Emerging Adults in Japan

Kai Hatano

Meeus, Crocetti, and colleagues proposed a process identity model that comprises three identity dimensions, namely, commitment, in-depth exploration, and reconsideration of commitment. This model was validated across a variety of cross-cultural samples, as well as across gender, age, and ethnic groups from the same cultural context. In addition, each of the three identity processes was found to be associated with a specific set of personality traits (i.e., Big Five) and psychosocial problems (i.e., internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors). Furthermore, this model can be used to classify individuals into five identity statuses (i.e., achievement, foreclosure, moratorium, diffusion, and searching moratorium), by means of empirically based methods of classification. However, previous studies have mostly been done with young people in North American and European nations, and it is not entirely clear whether these findings are consistent across different national contexts, particularly in Eastern countries. Among youth in Eastern countries, Japanese youth reveal some remarkable and unique features with respect to the transition to adulthood (e.g., the length period of education, the timing of marriage, and parenthood). In order to improve the understandings of identity formation in adolescence and emerging adulthood, we examined the association of the identity statuses with personality traits and psychosocial problems in Japanese adolescents and emerging adults. For this purpose, we first established the factorial validation of Japanese version of the U-MICS. Second, we examined the associations between identity dimensions and personality traits and psychosocial problems to test convergent validity of the U-MICS. Third, to address the main study goal, we empirically assigned participants to the identity clusters, and we compared age distributions across the five identity statuses and examined the profile of each status in adolescence and emerging adulthood.
We hypothesized that the fit indices of three-factor model would be better than one- or two- factor model across age and gender groups, and commitment and in depth exploration would be positively associated with adaptive personality traits; on the other hand, reconsideration of commitment would be negatively associated with adaptive personality traits and positively associated with psychosocial problems (hypothesis 1). We also hypothesized that five identity clusters were expected to be extracted in Japan, and the percentage of participants in the moratorium status would be high in both age groups (hypothesis 2). Finally, we hypothesized that the high commitment statuses (i.e., achievement and foreclosure) would score high on adaptive personality traits, and low on neuroticism and psychosocial problems; on the other hand, low commitment statuses (i.e., moratorium and diffusion) would show the opposite results, and the searching moratorium status would score high on adaptive personality traits, and low on neuroticism and internalizing problem behaviors; specifically, the emerging adults in this status would score higher on externalizing problem behaviors than the other four traditional identity statuses (hypothesis 3).

Participants were 1,233 thirteen and sixteen-year-olds adolescents (51.2% females), and 618 nineteen-year-olds emerging adults (69.9% females). In addition, we included adolescents’ parents (N = 1,233; 51.6% females) to measure internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors of their children.

The results of confirmatory factor analysis indicated that the U-MICS three-factor model fit the data significantly better than the one- and the two-factor models, and the results of measurement invariance tests demonstrated the establishment of measurement equivalence across gender and age groups. Moreover, the three identity dimensions were meaningfully associated with personality traits and psychosocial problems. These results supported our hypothesis 1. In addition, five identity statuses found in European samples were also extracted in the Japanese sample by means of cluster analysis, and the results of chi-square tests indicated that adolescents were more likely to be classified into the foreclosure, moratorium, or diffusion clusters than emerging adults, whereas emerging adults were more strongly represented in the achievement and searching moratorium clusters. These results were consistent with our hypothesis 2. Furthermore, the results of MANOVAs showed that participants in the identity statuses with high commitment (i.e., achievement and foreclosure) had high adaptive personality traits and few psychosocial problems; on the other hand, those in the identity statuses with low commitment (i.e., moratorium and diffusion) displayed the opposite features in both age groups. With respect to the searching moratorium status, adolescents in this status scored high on adaptive personality traits and low on internalizing problem behaviors, whereas emerging adults in the same status scored high on extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness, but also high on externalizing problem behaviors. These results supported our hypothesis 3.
Our results suggest that the three-factor model can be applied to study identity formation in Japanese adolescents and emerging adults. Moreover, not only moratorium and diffusion but also the searching moratorium status point to a dark-side of identity formation. This was particularly evident in the emerging adults group, suggesting that the meaning of searching moratorium differs across age groups. These differences were interpreted in relation to the postponement of adolescence in Japan and the clinical implications for adolescents and emerging adults were discussed.

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