You have free access to this content

Self and Identity across the Life Span

Part II. Social and Emotional Development

  1. Dan P. McAdams,
  2. Keith S. Cox

Published Online: 20 SEP 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470880166.hlsd002006

The Handbook of Life-Span Development

The Handbook of Life-Span Development

How to Cite

McAdams, D. P. and Cox, K. S. 2010. Self and Identity across the Life Span. The Handbook of Life-Span Development. II:6.

Author Information

  1. Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 20 SEP 2010


This chapter reviews trends in research and theory on the development of the self across the human life span, as they appear in a wide range of social-science disciplines. The review is organized in terms of three main guises of the self—the self as actor, agent, and author. Features of the self-as-actor emerge first in the life span, as manifested in the young child's observations of his or her own social performances and dispositional traits. With development, features of the self-as-agent—personal goals and plans and their psychological scaffolding—layer over basic dimensions of the actor-self. In emerging adulthood, the self-as-author rises to the fore to address the modern psychosocial challenge of creating a meaningful story, or narrative identity, for one's life.


  • identity;
  • self;
  • goals;
  • narratives;
  • traits