Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations

Multifaceted Development of Social Identity in Adolescence: The Role of Diverse Backgrounds and Discrimination

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman. (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Bonnie Berger (Other)

Third Advisor

Eric Dubow. (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Anne Gordon. (Committee Member)


Hate crimes in the United States have increased in recent years, as has the number of juvenile victims (Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], 2016, 2017). Furthermore, adolescence is a key time for social identity development (Erikson, 1968). Thus, understanding how adolescents explore and commit to various social identities (such as minoritized racial groups), as well as factors that impact this development (e.g., experiences of discrimination) is very important. The current study investigated adolescent social identity exploration and commitment in four domains: ethnic/racial identity, gender identity, religious identity, and American identity. These scales were modified from the widely used Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (Phinney & Ong, 2007). Additionally, relationships between the difference identity components and parent SES, adolescent age, and experienced discrimination were tested. The sample consisted of 200 high school students from Toledo, OH (Mage = 16.21, SD =1.14). The sample was diverse; for example, 47% identified as Black/African American and 21.5% identified as White. There was also a large subsample of nonreligious participants. The domains showed adequate differentiation, suggesting separate factors rather than a single variable of social identity. There were differences in exploration and commitment by identity domain, group, and SES. Adolescents’ identity commitment was highest on gender identity. Black/African American (versus White), religious (versus nonreligious), high religiosity (versus low), and high American identity (versus low) participants showed higher means in most identity components than their respective comparison groups. Parent SES had significant positive associations with exploration and commitment in all social identity domains. Age and discrimination were positively related with some but not all social identity components. This research provides practitioners and researchers alike with more information on how different domains of identity function, and on iv differential identity development between demographic groups. These results support the importance of investigating the relationships among parent SES, American identity, and religious identity (both affiliation and strength). Implications, future directions, and conclusions are discussed. This study emphasizes the importance of studying many facets of identity development and using diverse samples to compare group experiences.