Identity Exploration and Commitment in Early Adolescence: Genetic and Environmental Contributions

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Abstract

Identity formation is a key developmental task in adolescence. Although many adolescents in modern societies face issues of identity, there are substantial individual differences in identity exploration and commitment. Little is known about the origins of these individual differences. The current study investigated the genetic and environmental contributions to identity formation. In total, 571 11-year-old twins (85 monozygotic complete pairs and 176 dizygotic complete pairs) reported on their identity formation, using the Dimensions of Identity Development Scale (DIDS; Luyckx, Schwartz, Berzonsky, et al., 2008), as part of the Longitudinal Israeli Study of Twins (LIST; Avinun & Knafo, 2013). Multidimensional scaling analysis and confirmatory factor analysis supported the presence of all 5 dimensions at this young age: commitment making, exploration in-breadth, ruminative exploration, identification with commitment, and exploration in-depth. However, a model where exploration in-depth was divided into two subscales had a better fit to the data. Monozygotic twins were more similar to each other than dizygotic twins on all dimensions, except for one of the exploration in-depth subscales, supporting the idea that individual differences in various dimensions of identity formation are at least partially influenced by genetics (18–45%). For these dimensions, the rest of the variance was explained by nonshared environment effects (55–82%). Only one of the exploration in-depth subscales, that is, the tendency to explore commitments through discussion with others, showed evidence for the influence of the environment shared by twins (21%) but no genetic effect. Implications of the findings regarding the role of genetics and environment to identity formation are discussed.

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