Ego development and ethnic identity formation in rural American Indian adolescents

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Newman, Denise L. “Ego development and ethnic identity formation in rural American Indian adolescents." Child development 76.3 (May/June 2005): 734-746.


Newman describes a study designed to see if there is a relationship between ego development and ethnic identity formation among Lumbee middle school students. In a clear, detailed, and readable style, she defines and describes the concepts involved in the study (ego development, identity formation, ethnic identity), the measures she used, and her results. Her hypothesis was that ". . . young adolescents with higher levels of ego development would demonstrate higher levels of involvement in ethnic identification but that specific ego level would organize salient identity-related concerns in meaningful ways" (p. 736). The study involved 96 Lumbee adolescent and parent dyads who volunteered to participate. All were in grades 7, 8, or 9. Among the parents, 75% were mothers, 12% fathers, 8% grandmothers, and the remainder stepparents. A number of measures were used: For ego development, The Washington University Sentence Completion Test; for ethnic identity formation, the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure and the Native American Enculturation Measure; for psychological adjustment, the Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents, the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, and the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule; and for interpersonal relationships, the Youth Self-Report for Ages 11-18 of the Child Behavior Checklist, the Social Experiences Questionnaire, and the Family Environment Scale.The study's results include the following:• As with other studies of ego development in children and adolescents, these adolescents' modal level of ego development was at the self-protective (E3 level).• The ego development TPR (total protocol rating) had modest linear associations with measures of ethnic identity.• Ego development TPR was significantly related to only a few of the psychological and interpersonal adjustment measures: depression, negative affect, and social problems.• ". . . there is a reasonable relationship between ego development and identity strivings during early adolescence. Specifically, ego development relates meaningfully to initial ethnic identity exploration in this sample of American Indian adolescents" (p. 744).• "The data do not support the contention that higher ego development and ethnic identity levels are ipso facto more psychologically adjusted, although higher levels were associated with reduced aggression, social problem behavior, and peer conflict. Indeed, the higher levels of ego development in middle school were associated with more internal psychological distress, including social anxiety, depression, and lagged self-esteem" (p. 744).Newman notes the following limitations to the study: • Because of its relatively small sample size, it cannot detect small effects (particularly on the upper end of the ego development scale) and may not generalize to other ethnicities or even to reservation-dwelling rural Native American adolescents• The fact that all participants were self-selecting volunteers may have affected the results.• The fact that the measures were all self-reporting may have affected the results.Newman notes that the limitations named above are tempered by the fact that the findings of this study are consistent with findings of a great deal of previous empirical studies as well as with ego development theory.

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Ego development | Ethnic identity formation | Adolescents | Washington University Sentence Completion Test | Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure | Native American Enculturation Measure | Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents