The purpose of this report is to describe two different methods that have been used to investigate identity—(1) The Twenty Statements Test (Kuhn and McPartland, 1954) and (2) Marcia’s Semi-Structured Identity Status Interview (Marcia, 1966, 1980, 1994). Essentially, this report is in two parts: part 1 describes the two different methods, placing them in context, and part 2 discusses the importance of these approaches to our understanding of identity.
Methods: The Twenty Statements Test and Marcia’s Semi-Structured Identity Status Interview
Since William James’ psychological theories of identity and self consciousness (James, 1890), many researchers have devised methods and theories further to explain the concept of identity. Important theories include: (1) The Psychosocial Theory (Erikson, 1956, 1968; Marcia, 1966), (2) Social Identity Theory (Tajfel and Turner, 1986; Turner, 1982) and (3) Social Constructionism (Gergen, 1999). Although not associated with the identity theories above, the Twenty Statements Test (TST) is a useful tool for researchers investigating identity. Here, participants are given 12 minutes to jot down their individual responses to the question, ‘Who am I?’ They are required to answer the question 20 times. It was found that participants taking part in the experiment revealed simple, important facts about themselves, such as age, gender, marital status, as well as more complex, subtle insights into their personality, such as information about self image or personal belief systems. Answers can be categorised as follows:
(1) Physical Self (height, hair colour)
(2) Social Rôle (footballer, student)
(3) Personality (kind, sensitive)
(4) Existential (religious, human being)
The categorisation of these answers has been modified by many researchers and reviewers (Montemayer and Eisen, 1977; Miell, Phoenix and Thomas, 2007).
James Marcia’s Semi-Structured Interview is inextricably linked to the Psychosocial Theory of identity. Like Erikson, Marcia focused his attention on adolescence (Erickson’s fifth psychosocial stage) and devised a questionnaire which was intended to analyse the changing nature of adolescents’ self identity. Marcia restricted his studies to male college students (aged 18-25) until the 1970s. Typically, the semi-structured interviews would last between 15-30 minutes and followed the same overall outline, although derivations were allowed in order to explore areas more thoroughly. These interviews were designed to examine particular themes, but the confederate experimenters—usually psychology students on the campus—were allowed to change the order of the questions, and this flexibility enabled them to pursue important ideas and concepts (Miell, Phoenix and Thomas, 2007). In addition, because the interviews were taped, the experimenters were able to make the process more conversational. Once all the information was collated, Marcia would then construct a scoring manual and each participant would be evaluated against the criteria. Thus, this approach is both quantitative, in its coding of participants’ comments and analysing percentages of answers, and qualitative, in the identifying of general themes and overriding conceptions. Marcia focused on adolescents’ commitment and crises levels associated with jobs, politics, sexuality, religion, relationships and ideology.
The TST is a subjective approach for analysing identity, and it continues to be used today in various modified forms. After posing this simple question, participants, having responded with various answers which correspond to their own physical appearance or social rôle, may begin to question or recall their own personal experience and rôle in society. This approach is firmly in the hermeneutic tradition.
Of course, answers may depend on age. Montemayer and Eisen (1977) found that the TST revealed significant differences between age groups. For example, 9 year-olds tended to limit their answers to physical descriptions (‘I am thin’/’I wear bright clothes’) and likes and dislikes (‘I like dogs’/‘I hate opera’). Older children, in their answers, addressed social rôles (‘I am a team rep’) and personality (‘I am generous’). However, older teenagers (17-18 year olds) included information which was related to an abstract world (‘I am atheist’). Further, the older the children, the more they seemed to qualify their answers; for example, a seventeen year-old girl might state that she, ‘is usually generous unless [she] is tired’. Kuhn and McPartland (1954) found that the TST revealed answers which enabled them to draw conclusions about the self concepts of different age groups.
The TST is a simple approach which can also help the participant to analyse himself in isolation or in a social context. Thus, this method is introspectionist. It enables the researcher quickly to gain access to the participants’ identity and self esteem using the client’s own words. There is also the possibility of using this approach in a clinical setting. For example, a skilled psychologist may, when working with someone suffering from low self esteem, be able to draw out associations related to the client’s social identity.
Marcia’s Semi-Structured Interview has been modified many times and, perhaps, is the most well-known approach used by researchers in the study of identity (Kroger, 2000). Although the task experimenters follow the same outline, the flexibility of the approach—that is to say, the changing of the order and the qualifying remarks from the students—make it possible for the interjudge to gain some insight into the participants’ intrinsic identities and belief systems. For example, in the study by Marcia in 1966, a sample question in the occupational area was:
How willing do you think you’d be to give up going into_______if something better came along? (Marcia, p553)
Students qualified their answers, and the analyst categorised them into four statuses: (1) ‘Identity Achievement’ (subject committed to an occupation and ideology after crises), (2) ‘Moratorium’ (subject in a crisis period; vague), (3) ‘Foreclosure’ (subject not having experienced crisis; lack of belief; still fulfilling parents’ goals) and (4) ‘Identity Diffusion’ (subject has lack of commitment). A great deal of information about personal/social identity can be taken from one or two terse responses. Sample answers to the above question were as follows:
[Identity Achievement] Well, I might, but I doubt it. I can’t see what “something better” would be for me.
[Moratorium] I guess if I knew for sure I could answer that better. It would have to be something in the general area—something related.
[Foreclosure] Not very willing. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. The folks are happy with it and so am I.
[Identity Diffusion] Oh sure. If something better came along, I’d change just like that. (Marcia, p553)
Although this approach is time consuming and focuses on personal identity without giving much thought to the individuals’ rôle in a social context, the Semi-Structured Interview is a useful tool for analysing personal identity.
WORD COUNT: 999 (excluding references and headings)
References for Part 1
DSE 212 (2007). Exploring Psychological Research Methods (Milton Keynes: Open University Press).
Erikson EH (1956). The problem of ego identity. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 4: 56-121.
Erikson E (1968). Identity, Youth and Crisis (New York: WW Norton & Co.).
Gergen K (1999). An Invitation to Social Construction (London: Sage)
James W (1890). Principles of Psychology (New York: Holt).
Kroger J (2000). Ego identity status research in the new millennium. International Journal for the Study of Behavioral Development, 24 (2): 145-8.
Kuhn MK, McPartland S (1954). An empirical investigation of self attitudes. American Sociological Review, 19: 68-76.
Marcia JE (1966). Development and validation of ego-identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3: 551-8.
Marcia J (1980). Identity in adolescence, in J Adelson (ed.) Handbook of Adolescent Psychology (New York: Wiley).
Marcia J (1994). The empirical study of ego identity, in H Bosma, T Graafsma, H Grotevant and D de Levita (eds.) Identity and Development: an Interdisciplinary Approach (London: Sage).
Miell D, Phoenix A, Thomas K (2007). Mapping Psychology: Book 1 Introduction and Chapters 1-5 (Milton Keynes: Open University Press).
Montemayer R, Eisen M (1977). The development of self conceptions from childhood to adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 13 (3): 314-9.
Tajfel H, Turner JC (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behaviour, in S Worchel and LW Austin (eds.) Psychology of Intergroup Relations (Chicago: Nelson-Hall).
Turner JC (1982). Towards a cognitive redefinition of the social group, in H Tajfel (ed.) Social Identity and Intergroup Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Part 2: Ethics Questions
No. The proposed investigation raises ethical concerns. Psychologists, including students, have an obligation to uphold professional standards, and here, they make no attempt to explain the nature of the research to the children. The BPS Code of Ethics and Conduct (British Psychological Society, 2006) states that participants should be given, ‘ample opportunity to understand the nature, purpose, and…consequences of any…research participation’ (1.3 i). Consent forms were not mentioned (1.3 ii). There is a case, however, for observing individuals in public if they would, ‘reasonably expect to be observed by strangers…[and] believe they are unobserved’ (1.3 ix). However, no consent had been given from the Headteacher or the parents either.
WORD COUNT (excluding numbers and the one reference): 99
The following proposal is a revised version of the original: it follows the principle tenets of the original observational approach while upholding the standards of ethical decision making—particularly informed consent (1.1 i; 1.3 xii; 3.3 i)—set by the BPS (British Psychological Society, 2006).
All students should explain to the Headteacher the purpose of the study and obtain written permission to carry out the observation (1.3 i).
The students should then write a detailed consent form (1.2 i; 1.2 ii; 1.3 i) for the parents to sign: this document should confirm: (1) the aims , (2) that no recordings will be taken (1.2 x), (3) that they will respect anonymity, (4) that any parent has the right to withdraw his/her child from the experiment (3.3 vi; 1.4 iii) and (5) that no financial compensation will be given (4.2 iv).
CRB checks received, they can proceed at a designated time, providing they make no contact with the children (4.2 i), that they wear school passes, and that members of staff are in situ. Feedback will be given (3.4 i).
WORD COUNT: 143
This study focuses on the influence of models on impressionable adolescents. Here, in order to use direct quotations from young people, Susie should have spoken to the adolescents, asking them whether they would be happy to participate or help with her research (1.3 i). With the appropriate consent forms, she would then be able to tape the conversation. Alternatively, she could devise a number of questions, akin to Marcia’s Semi-Structured Identity Interview (Marcia, 1966), which would focus on self-stereotyping and adolescent ideals. Again, Susie must make sure that she receives consent forms (1.3 ii) and explains the nature of the intended research (1.3 i).
WORD COUNT: 96
Reference to Question 1
Marcia JE (1966). Development and validation of ego-identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3: 551-8.
Quotations are useful for hermeneutic analysis; however, it is important to ensure the participants’ anonymity (1). The postgraduate researcher would be well advised to change all the names of the participants and remove any text or clues which might identify one of the students (DSE212, p34)
WORD COUNT: 44
Reference to Questions 2
DSE 212 (2007). Exploring psychological Research Methods (Milton Keynes: Open University Press).
This study investigates the damaging effect of models on impressionable teenagers and the rise of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. First, researchers will ask students whether they would like to be involved in the study, obtain consent forms (1.3 ii) and explain the purpose of the study (1.3 i). Researchers will then allocate twenty adolescents (10 girls, 10 boys; age 15-16) to two groups. Each group will comprise 5 girls and 5 boys and will follow the same format. A moderator will initiate a discussion by asking some probing questions related to the media’s portrayal of famous models, diet control and disorders, and perception of body weight. All students have the right to speak or to stay silent (3.3 vii). Further, the moderator will ensure that all students’ opinions are respected (1.1 i; 1.1 ii) and that all participants receive and have the opportunity to comment on the pre-publication transcript. Students can withdraw any comments (3.3 vi).
WORD COUNT: 145
This study, in its present form, does not comply with the ethical principles of the British Psychological Society. On analysis, one is drawn to the issue of respect (principle 1). In order to reduce socially desirable responding, the researcher has decided to add further, unrelated questions, telling the participants that the research addresses several topics. At first glance, this approach may be considered to be deceptive (1.3 xii); it is, thus, extremely important that researchers respect the clients’ knowledge, insight and experience (1.1 ii), ask permission to transcribe the interview from the tape recording (1.2 x) and follow up the study with a debrief (3.4 i; 1.2 iv; 1.1 ii).
WORD COUNT: 99
I think that it is important to advise the participants that this study will focus on one specific topic and that, in order to provide more objective answers in the semi-structured questionnaire, the researchers have decided to withhold the precise nature of the investigation until completion. It is important to make this point at the start so that participants do not feel deceived (1.3 xii) or even patronized (1.1 ii); and, although they will be aware of an unknown hypothesis, the questions, as a result, might well draw out some unbiased responses. All participants have the right to decline answering any questions (3.3 vii).
WORD COUNT: 98
At follow up, I would explain the precise nature and parameters of the investigation on students’ concepts associated with religious identity (3.4 i); however, I would also take care not to give any personal opinions which might carry any unintended weight (3.4 ii) or suggest social criticism.
WORD COUNT: 45