The Meaningful Identity: A Longitudinal Look at the Interplay Between Identity and Meaning in Life in Adolescence

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Abstract

Identity formation in adolescence is closely linked to searching for and acquiring meaning in one’s life. To date little is known about the manner in which these 2 constructs may be related in this developmental stage. In order to shed more light on their longitudinal links, we conducted a 3-wave longitudinal study, investigating how identity processes and meaning in life dimensions are interconnected across time, testing the moderating effects of gender and age. Participants were 1,062 adolescents (59.4% female), who filled in measures of identity and meaning in life at 3 measurement waves during 1 school year. Cross-lagged models highlighted positive reciprocal associations between (a) commitment processes and presence of meaning and (b) exploration processes and search for meaning. These results were not moderated by adolescents’ gender or age. Strong identification with present commitments and reduced ruminative exploration helped adolescents in having a clear sense of meaning in their lives. We also highlighted the dual nature of search for meaning. This dimension was sustained by exploration in breadth and ruminative exploration, and it positively predicted all exploration processes. We clarified the potential for a strong sense of meaning to support identity commitments and that the process of seeking life meaning sustains identity exploration across time.

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