Biological and Behavioral Mechanisms of Identity Pathology Development: An Integrative Review

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Abstract

Although identity disturbance is a transdiagnostic mental health problem, modern explanatory models for its emergence are limited. To date, the social, developmental, clinical, and neuropsychological literatures exploring identity processes are also largely disconnected. Existing theories have laid the foundation for understanding important components of identity pathology, yet many overlook biological, behavioral, and interactive processes by which these difficulties may emerge. In this integrative review, we explore how broad transdiagnostic vulnerabilities for psychopathology and more specific risky behavioral processes may reciprocally interact and be refined over time into an identity disturbance profile. Our primary purpose is to review behavioral and biosocial theories and derive a testable conceptual framework for how identity disturbance emerges over the course of development. We aim to describe and integrate several disparate lines of theory and research in order to illuminate potential etiological pathways to identity pathology.

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