The Roles of Identity Formation and Moral Identity in College Student Mental Health, Health-risk Behaviors, and Psychological Well-Being


  • We are grateful to Seth Schwartz and the rest of the MUSIC collaborative for their work with the research design, data collection, and data management. We also appreciate Elliot Tucker-Drob, Joseph Olsen, Chongming Yang and Zhiyong “Johnny” Zhang for statistical consultation.

Please address correspondence to: Sam Hardy, 1040 SWKT, Provo, Utah 84602. E-mail:



This study examined the roles of identity formation and moral identity in predicting college student mental health (anxiety and depressive symptoms), health-risk behaviors (hazardous alcohol use and sexual risk taking), and psychological well-being (self-esteem and meaning).


The sample comprised 9,500 college students (aged 18–25 years, mean = 19.78, standard deviation = 1.61; 73% female; 62% European American), from 31 different universities, who completed an online self-report survey.


Structural equation models found that identity maturity (commitment making and identity synthesis) predicted 5 of the health outcomes (except sexual risk taking), and moral identity predicted all of the health outcomes. In most cases identity maturity and moral identity also interacted in predicting mental health and psychological well-being, but not health-risk behaviors.


The maturity and specific contents of identity may both play unique and often interactive roles in predicting college student health. Thus, college student health might be bolstered by helping them establish appropriate identity commitments.