Ego Development and Ethnic Identity Formation in Rural American Indian Adolescents


  • The author gratefully acknowledges the families who participated in the Teenpathways Study, support from the William T. Grant Foundation, and assistance with data collection and coding by Mandi Burnette, Jane Mendle, Shannan Smith-Janik, and Amy West.

concerning this article should be addressed to Denise L. Newman, Department of Psychology, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118. Electronic mail may be sent to


Ethnic identity development was assessed in the context of ego development in 12- to 15-year-old students from a Southeastern American Indian community. Self-protective was the modal level and was characterized by awareness of ethnic group membership but little exploration or self-reflection. Impulsive adolescents had the least developed ethnic identities and highest levels of interpersonal vulnerability. Conformist adolescents expressed positive feelings about ethnic group affiliation, described relationships as harmonious, but demonstrated moderate social anxiety. Postconformist adolescents had the highest levels of agency, social competence, and identity achievement, but also had high levels of psychological distress and family conflict. Adolescent identity strivings may be understood in context with the level and timing of psychosocial maturity, for which ego development appears a useful marker.