The importance of the social context as a strategy for self-continuity for emerging adults from the US and Brazil
A number of different aspects of identity are relevant to young people, from self-esteem, distinctiveness, self-concept, clarity, coherence and self-continuity. We recently published a paper in the Journal of Social Psychology Research on the importance of the social context as a component self-continuity. Using young adults (ages 19-25) from the US and Brazil, our latest research demonstrates that the social context, specifically our friends and family, is a novel, measurably distinct self-continuity strategy. In particular, the results from our study exemplify that relationships continue to play an important role in healthy identity development.
Emerging adulthood refers to the period of early adulthood between the ages of 18 and 25. Specifically, it’s characterized as an age for exploring different identities, within the contexts of school, work and romantic relationships, to name a few. Due to the changing roles during this period of the lifespan, this is also an age exemplified by instability. Beyond that, emerging adults can feel in-between adolescence and adulthood, that this is a period of their lives to focus on themselves and that the future contains a range of possibilities for them. As such, this makes for a crucial period to study identity development.
Not surprisingly, as a result of these changing roles, social relationships are also in flux during emerging adulthood. These young adults are continuing the process of relying less on their parents and more on their friends and peers, often moving several times during their early twenties. Work networks also begin to take a more prominent role in their lives as they pursue different career opportunities. Likewise, many emerging adults are also beginning to develop long-term romantic relationships and sometimes living with their partners, getting married and/or having children. All these changes bring to the surface questions about how to incorporate these into one’s sense of self-concept. Personal persistence or self-continuity is a salient component of these new demands.
Self-continuity specifically refers to the various means by which individuals reconcile the changes they have experienced in the past and will undergo in the future into a cohesive sense of self. A number of studies have demonstrated the adaptive role that self-continuity plays in the development of adolescents and young adults. In particular, the period of adolescence into early adulthood is associated with physical changes (puberty for example), cognitive changes (e.g. in metacognition for one) and societal changes (in roles and/or expectations). As such, this period of the lifespan is particularly relevant to our understanding of the importance of self-continuity.
These various changes impact each component of identity development, self-continuity among them, especially the strategies one uses to reconcile their sense of send into a whole. Strategies for self-continuity typically involve either an essentialist approach (focusing on aspects about oneself that remain the same, like our brain/DNA/soul, etc.) or narrativist (wherein all the various changes one experiences are like different chapters in a larger story). Previously, we have been able to demonstrate that these two strategies for self-continuity are able to be measured reliably across a range of cultural contexts (Canada, Colombia and Brazil, specifically).
Our most recent study demonstrates that emerging adults’ social context, again the friends and family they have, is another potential strategy to reconcile the various ways in which they are changing. Interestingly, the older participants in our study more strongly endorsed the social context as a self-continuity strategy. The findings are especially relevant given that the impact of the COVID pandemic continues to reverberate globally as are the economic and political uncertainties affecting young adults. Our study hints at ways in which youth navigate these challenges, inasmuch as relates to their sense of self. Changes, even positive ones, are inherently stressful. Given the large number of changes that emerging adults experience, psychologists are particularly interested in better understanding how they accommodate these into an integrated sense of self. Finally, even though our findings used young adults from two different countries (Brazil and the US), the constructs themselves did not differ from a measurement standpoint even though there were some group differences. Specifically, Brazilian youth more strongly endorsed the social context as a self-continuity strategy.
To summarize, we used a sample of emerging adults from the US and Brazil and measured their self-continuity and the strategies they used to bolster this sense of self-continuity. As would be expected, those who had a stronger sense of self-continuity endorsed more essentialist AND narrativist strategies. However, the emerging adults in our study were more likely to report that part of why they were the same person over time was because of the friends and family that they had. As a take-home message, these findings reiterate the importance of positive relationships for young adults.
Blog post by Jonathan B. Santo, University of Nebraska Omaha, USA
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