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Over the past four decades most research on adolescent identity has been conceptualized identity in terms of Marica's identity status paradigm (see Berzonsky and Adams, 1999; Marcia, 1993, 1966). Recently some researchers have focused on the social-cognitive processing orientations or styles used by adolescents categorized as having different identity statuses. Identity processing style refers to self-reported differences in how individuals process self-relevant information, negotiate identity issues, and make decisions (Berzonsky, 1989).
Three styles of processing identity relevant information have been identified: Informational, normative, and diffuse-avoidant (Berzonsky, 1989, 1990). Adolescents who use an informational identity processing style actively seek out and evaluate self-relevant information. They have been found to be self-reflective, conscientious, open to experience, problem-focused, and vigilant decision makers (Berzonsky, 1990; Berzonsky and Ferrari, 1996; Dollinger, 1995). Those who utilize a normative processing style rely more automatically on the expectations and prescriptions of significant others. They have been found to be conscientious and purposeful but highly structured and closed to information that might conflict with their personal beliefs and values (Berzonsky and Kinney, 1995; Berzonsky and Kuk, 2000; Berzonsky and Sullivan, 1992; Dollinger, 1995). Adolescents who employ a diffuse-avoidant identity style, procrastinate, delay, and attempt to avoid facing up to identity issues and conflicts as long as possible; their behavior is determined mainly by situational factors and hedonic cues (Berzonsky, 1990). Diffuse-avoidance has been found to be associated with emotion-focused coping, avoidant decisional
strategies, cross-situational variability, other-directedness, and self-handicapping (Berzonsky, 1990, 1994a; Berzonsky and Ferrari, 1996).
Identity styles are also associated with differences in identity commitments. An informational style has been found to be used by youth who have achieved or are in the process of forming (moratorium) personal identity commitments (e.g., Berzonsky, 1989, 1990; Berzonsky and Kuk, 2000; Berzonsky and Neimeyer, 1994; Schwartz et al., 2000; Streitmatter, 1993). A normative processing style is associated with foreclosed identity commitments: ones formed without an active process of self-exploration (Berzonsky and Neimeyer, 1994; Schwartz et al., 2000; Streitmatter, 1993). Finally, a diffuse-avoidant identity processing style is used by uncommitted adolescents classified as having a diffusion identity status (e.g., Berzonsky and Neimeyer, 1994; Schwartz et al., 2000; Streitmatter, 1993).
Although numerous cognitive, social, and personality aspects of identity processing styles have been investigated, little attention has been devoted to factors that may account for individual differences in their utilization. Among late adolescents with different identity styles no differences in IQ (Berzonsky and Ferrari, 1996) or verbal SAT (Berzonsky, 1998) scores have been found. Consequently, at least among late adolescents, motivational influences and factors--for example, need for cognition (Berzonsky and Sullivan, 1992), need for structure (Berzonsky and Kinney, 1995), and/or need to create a positive impression (Berzonsky, 1994a)--may play a more important role than intellectual competence or ability in determining individual differences in identity style.
It is possible that interactions within the family contribute to differences in identity style. For example, adolescents whose parents set definite, but reasonable boundaries and provide rational explanations may be more motivated to seek out and evaluate relevant information than youth whose parents are inconsistent or overly lenient. Fullinwider-Bush and Jacobvitz (1993) did find that boundary dissolution within a family was negatively correlated with informational scores. However, there were only 45 female participants and a balance of individuation and emotional closeness within a family--hypothesized to promote an informational style--was found to be positively associated with normative scores (Fullinwider-Bush and Jacobvitz, 1993).
The present study was designed to investigate the role that differences in parental authority may play in accounting for variation in the use of identity processing styles. Because consistent relationships between identity style and identity commitments have been found (e.g., Berzonsky, 1989, 1990, 2003; Berzonsky and Kuk, 2000; Berzonsky and Neimeyer, 1994; Schwartz et al., 2000; Streitmatter, 1993), a second objective was to ascertain whether identity style would mediate the contribution that parental authority makes to the establishment of identity commitments.
Baumrind (1971, 1991) has identified three types of family authority styles: authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive. They vary on a number of dimensions including the extent to which parents: establish firm guidelines and limits; explain and justify demands and expectations; assert power and control; and provide emotional support (Baumrind, 1971, 1991). Authoritative parents set clear, reasonable guidelines and they exercise reliable control in a legitimate and loving fashion. They explain and justify their expectations and actions and they are responsive to feedback. However, authoritative parents will assert power and control when adolescents are too immature or self-centered to listen to reason. Research indicates that adolescents with authoritative parents tend to be more individuated, self-reliant, psychosocially mature, cognitively competent, and motivated than their authoritarianly or permissively rearing counterparts (Baumrind, 1991; Steinberg …