Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


“A Me Dis”: Jamaican Adolescent Identity Construction and its Relations with Academic, Psychological, and Behavioral Functioning

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Eric Dubow


Although the idea of identity construction from component parts into an integrated whole was theorized decades ago by Erickson (1968), it has only recently begun to be studied. Susan Harter’s extensive work on the construction of the self attests to the fact that adolescents do perceive and evaluate themselves differently in different domains of life, and that these self-representations differ substantially from early to late adolescence (e.g., Harter, 1999). However, most of the research in this area has tended to focus on adolescents’ self-evaluations (i.e., How good am I?) instead of valence-free adolescent self-descriptions (i.e., Who am I?). Not only is more research on adolescent self-descriptions warranted, but there also needs to be more research done on how adolescents actually go about integrating their multiple “selves” into whole identities, or “theories of self,” as defined by Marcia (1987). Therefore, the present study aimed to add to the current body of knowledge on adolescent identity construction by investigating how Jamaican adolescents comparatively valued six major life domains (academic, social, sexual, religious, family, and friends). A new graphical measure of relative domain valuing, the “Identity Pie”, was adapted from Cowan, Cowan and colleagues work (e.g., Cowan & Cowan, 1988) and validated for use in this study. The relations between particular self-identification profiles and life adjustment were explored in addition to gender and developmental stage differences. Overall, Jamaican adolescents reported comparable levels of domain valuing, and academic, psychological and behavioral functioning to U.S. adolescents. The Identity Pie proved to be a valid measure of domain valuing and identity construction. The total sample valued life domains in the following order: schoolwork/family > religion/friends > sports > dating. Many expected gender and grade differences emerged; however, the similarities across gender and grade were overwhelming. Adolescents of both genders and all grade levels valued schoolwork and family among the highest domains and sports and dating among the lowest. Further, results revealed that relatively high valuing of the dating domain and having a strong peer-orientation were related to negative academic, psychological and behavioral outcomes. Implications and limitations of the current findings are discussed with special consideration of cross-cultural issues, and suggestions are made for future research in this area. Overall, this study provides a detailed sketch of the Jamaican adolescent, which can be interesting and informative to anyone working with this population.