Friday, September 7, 2012

Studying Emerging Adulthood within an Erikson-Stage Framework

I recently came across a May 2012 doctoral dissertation by Alicia Victoria Patterson at the University of Texas, Arlington (link). In her dissertation, the newly minted Dr. Patterson coined a new Eriksonian-type dilemma (also known as a conflict, dialectic, or crisis) for Emerging Adulthood, titled Incarnation vs. Impudence. If I can offer my own, down-to-earth paraphrase, the dilemma is that of seriously planning and working toward a responsible adult life vs. living frivolously. Patterson cogently articulates the meaning of the dilemma on pages 40-41 of her dissertation:

During this crisis, emerging adults may assume responsibility for handling adult-level problems and make concrete, realistic plans for the future, or they alternately find themselves baffled and operating in child-like ways. In this latter situation, they are immature adults with unrealistic, grandiose dreams and an inability to take action toward purposeful accomplishments. I propose that to successfully resolve the crisis of emerging adulthood, young people must accept the obligations of the “real world,” understand that actions have real and sometimes serious consequences, begin making tangible and realistic goals, and demonstrate effort to achieve those goals. If emerging adults are unable to [do so], they are in a state of impudence... When they confront adulthood constructively, they achieve incarnation.    

This theme of seriousness vs. frivolity has also been addressed by other scholars and professionals, such as Jeff Arnett and Janet Taylor (seen here on the Today Show discussing whether individuals in the Emerging Adulthood age range use the time productively) and Michael Kimmel (in his book Guyland, reviewed here). However, Patterson's approach in giving Emerging Adulthood its own dilemma/crisis akin to established Eriksonian ones such as Trust vs. Mistrust or Integrity vs. Despair is unique, to my knowledge.

Patterson also created her own questionnaire measure to assess Incarnation vs. Impudence, called the PEEAS (Patterson’s Eriksonian Emerging Adulthood Survey). The PEEAS consists of six subscales (Incarnation, Impudence, Experimental Sexuality, Ideological Experimentation, Temporal and Spatial Social and Intimate Relationships, and Interdependence/Self-sufficiency and Dependence/Helplessness), along with an overall score for resolution of the stage-specific crisis. To help establish the validity of the PEEAS, Patterson administered many other measures related to Emerging Adulthood and identity, including the IDEA that I developed along with Arnett and Malinda Colwell.

Patterson found significant correlations between the PEEAS and other constructs, although some of the planned analyses were hindered by missing data on some of the measures. She also compared the PEEAS scores by age groups of respondents (18 year-olds, 19-25, and 26-plus) and whether respondents had "boomeranged" back to live with their parents after living away from home.

All in all, Patterson's dissertation represents a thoughtful and detailed contribution to the study of Emerging Adulthood, which I recommend to scholars in this area.

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