The Role of Identity Commitments in Depressive Symptoms and Stressful Life Events in Adolescence and Young Adulthood

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Abstract

The formation of a stable identity, consisting of a strong set of commitments, is a key developmental task in adolescence and young adulthood. Not resolving this task and lacking strong identity commitments is related to difficulties like depressive symptoms and stressful life events. However, the exact role of identity commitments in these negative experiences has remained unclear. In two longitudinal studies in the Netherlands spanning 8 and 6 years, respectively, we examined the associations between career and interpersonal commitments, depressive symptoms, and the number of experienced stressful life events over time. Study 1 included 683 adolescents (11 to 15 years at T1) and 268 adolescents and young adults (16 to 20 years at T1). Study 2 included 960 adolescents (12 to 17 years at T1) and 944 young adults (18 to 24 years at T1). Both studies indicated that stronger identity commitments predicted relative decreases in negative experiences. In Study 2, stronger interpersonal commitments predicted relative decreases in depressive symptoms. In both studies, stronger career commitments predicted a relative decrease in stressful life events. Furthermore, only career commitments weakened after negative experiences. Interpersonal commitments did not weaken after negative experiences, possibly because of the importance of interpersonal relationships during difficult times. Moreover, identity commitments did not buffer the effect of stressful life events on depressive symptoms in either study. These findings underscore the importance of identity commitments in adolescence and young adulthood, but provide crucial nuances regarding their role in different life domains.

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