Identity dimensions and related processes in emerging adulthood: helpful or harmful?

J Clin Psychol. 2013 Apr;69(4):415-32. doi: 10.1002/jclp.21960. Epub 2013 Jan 24.


Objectives: The current study evaluated the mediational role of well-being in the relationship between identity development and psychosocial functioning.

Method: A sample of 7,649 undergraduate students (73% female; mean age = 19.95, standard deviation = 1.98; 62% Caucasian) completed measures of personal identity, well-being, internalizing symptoms, externalizing problems, and health-risk behaviors.

Results: Results revealed that (a) identity exploration and commitment were negatively associated with internalizing symptoms, health-risk behaviors, and externalizing problems through well-being, (b) ruminative exploration was negatively associated with well-being and positively associated with externalizing problems, and (c) increased levels of ruminative exploration appear more detrimental for men than for women.

Conclusion: The study shed light on the mechanisms through which identity processes are related to internalizing symptoms, externalizing problems, and health-risk behaviors. The role of well-being in these associations, and the potentially deleterious "side effects" of exploration and commitment appear to suggest new and important directions for identity research.

Keywords: Identity; college students; health risk behavior; ruminative exploration; satisfaction with life; self-esteem; well-being.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Human Development / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Self Concept
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Identification*
  • Students / psychology*
  • United States
  • Universities*
  • Young Adult