As we have seen, an important aspect of identity in adulthood is how one integrates various aspects of the self. Self-perceptions and how they differ with age have been examined in a wide variety of studies and are related to many behaviors. Changes in self-perceptions are often manifested in changed beliefs, concerns, and expectations. Self-concept is the organized, coherent, integrated pattern of selfperceptions. It includes the notions of self-esteem and self-image.
Kegan (1982) attempted to integrate the development of self-concept and cognitive development. He postulated six stages of the development of self, corresponding to stages of cognitive development described in Chapter 7. Kegan’s first three stages—which he calls incorporative, impulsive, and imperial—correspond to Piaget’s sensorimotor, preoperational, and concrete operational stages (see Chapter 7). During this time, he believes children
342 CHAPTER 9 move from knowing themselves on the basis of reflexes to knowing themselves through needs and interests. At the beginning of formal operational thought during early adolescence (see Chapter 7), he argues, a sense of interpersonal mutuality begins to develop; he terms this period the interpersonal stage. By late adolescence or young adulthood, people move to a mature sense of identity based on taking control of their own life and developing an ideology; Kegan calls this period the institutional stage. Finally, with the acquisition of post-formal thought (see Chapter 7) comes an understanding that the self is a very complex system that takes into account other people; Kegan terms this period the interindividual stage. Kegan’s (1982) work emphasizes the fact that personality development does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, we must not forget that the person is a complex integrated whole. Consequently, an understanding of the development of self-concept or any other aspect of personality is enhanced by an understanding of how it relates to other dimensions of development.
This point was clearly demonstrated by Labouvie – Vief and colleagues (1995). Working within a cognitive-developmental framework, they documented age differences in self-representation in people ranging in age from 11 to 85 years. Specifically, they found that mature adults move from representations of the self in young adulthood that are relatively poorly differentiated from others or from social conventions and expectations, to representations in middle age that are highly differentiated, to representations in old age that are less differentiated. An important finding was that the degree of differentiation in self-representation was related to the level of cognitive development, providing support for Kegan’s position. Along similar lines, lacking a coherent sense of self has been shown to have cumulative negative effects across the adult life span, with its most pronounced effect in older age (Diehl et al., 2001).
In one of the few longitudinal studies of selfconcept, Mortimer, Finch, and Kumka (1982) followed a group of men for 14 years, beginning when the participants were college freshmen. They found that self-image consisted of four dimensions: well-being, interpersonal qualities, activity,
and unconventionality. Well-being included selfperceptions concerning happiness, lack of tension, and confidence. Interpersonal qualities referred to self-perceptions concerning sociability, interest in others, openness, and warmth. The activity component consisted of self-perceptions of strength, competence, success, and activity. The unconventionality dimension indicated that men saw themselves as impulsive, unconventional, and dreamy. Clearly, what Mortimer and colleagues found concerning self-image is very closely related to Costa and McCrae’s model of personality, described earlier in this chapter.
Over the 14-year period the men in the Mortimer study showed little change as a group. The structure of self-concept remained stable. Some fluctuation at the level of self-image was noted, though. Both well-being and competence declined during college but rebounded after graduation. Self-perceptions of unconventionality declined after college. Sociability showed a steady decline across the entire study.
At the intraindividual level, the data indicated that self-perceptions of confidence were related to life events. The course of a man’s career, his satisfaction with career and marriage, his relationship with
his parents, and his overall life satisfaction followed patterns that could be predicted by competence. For example, employees like the man in the photo—whose competence scores remained above the group average—reported fewer job problems and higher marital and life satisfaction than men whose competence scores were below the group average.
Interestingly, a man’s degree of confidence as a college senior influenced his later evaluation of life events, and it may have even set the stage for a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mortimer and colleagues suggest that these men may actively seek and create experiences that fit their personality structure. Similarly, this hypothesis is supported by longitudinal research on gifted women, whose high self-confidence in early adulthood becomes manifested as a high life satisfaction during their 60s (Sears & Barbee, 1978).
The results from the Mortimer, Finch, and Kumka (1982) study are strikingly similar to the data from the Berkeley studies described earlier in this chapter. Recall that data from these studies also support the idea that life events are important influences on personality development. In the present case, life events clearly influence one’s self-concept. We will consider
in the next section how adults explain why certain things or certain events happen to them.