Scholarly article on topic 'Identity Status, Coping Strategy and Decision Making Process among Italian University Students'

Identity Status, Coping Strategy and Decision Making Process among Italian University Students Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Monica Pellerone

Abstract The research has investigated: the identity development, the decision making process, the coping strategy, predictive variables on the academic performance and the decision making style. The research involved 82 Italian university students divided into: a group of 50 subjects of mean age 21.86 (S.D = 2.35); a second group of 32 students, mean age 24.50 (S.D = 1.30). The sample completed: Ego Identity Process Questionnaire, General Decision Making Style and Coping Orientation to Problems Experienced. Results showed that: low-profile identity foretells the avoiding decisional style; high self-exploration is predictive of the academic success and the coping style.

Academic research paper on topic "Identity Status, Coping Strategy and Decision Making Process among Italian University Students"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 106 (2013) 1399 - 1408

4th International Conference on New Horizons in Education

Identity status, coping strategy and decision making process among Italian university students

Monica Pellerone*

"Kore" University ofEnna, Faculty of Hum an and Social Science, Via Cittadella Universitaria, Enna, 94100, Itali a


The research has investigated: the identity development, the decision making process, the coping strategy, predictive variables on the academic performance and the decision making style. The research involved 82 Italian university students divided into: a group of 50 subjects of mean age 21.86 (S.D = 2.35); a second group of 32 students, mean age 24.50 (S.D = 1.30). The sample completed: Ego Identity Process Questionnaire, General Decision Making Style and

Coping Orientation to Problems Experienced. Results showed that: low-profile identity foretells the avoiding decisional style; high self-exploration is predictive of the academic success and the coping style.


Selectionandpeer-reviewunderresponsibilityofTheAssociationofScience,EducationandTechnology-TASET,SakaryaUniversitesi, Turkey.

Keywords: Identity Status; Coping Strategy; Decision Making .

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +393294324311 E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of The Association of Science, Education and Technology-TASET, Sakarya Universitesi, Turkey. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.12.156


Adolescence is a crucial stage where new and risky contexts require the individual to decide about his or her own future and to face the consequences ofhis or her choices (D'Alessio, Baiocco, & Laghi, 2006). The adolescent, having to make choices for his or her future, has not only to consider his or her own aspirations and interests but also to possess a capacity for exploration and identity commitment and cognitive schema (Eccles, & Wigfield, 2000; Wigfield, & Eccles, 2002).

Reflection on identity appears to be an essential passage for defining projects for life; choice is a complex cognitive task, which also has to take into account all possible options, including future ones, ones that are not predictable, of the development of complex competences, as well as the ability to face changes (Eccles, & Wigfield, 2000; Wigfield, & Eccles, 2002; Pellerone, 2011).

In the light of these premises, the objective of the present contribution is to investigate the following: a) identity development; b) the influence that it has on the process of decision making and the coping strategy; c) predictive variables on the academic performance.


In the last few decades various theories have emerged that deal with adolescent development in the processes of change in self-imaging; in particular, the theme was investigated beginning from the seventies using psychoanalytic and psychosocial models (Lucky, Goossens, & Soenens, 2006; Schwartz, Zamboanga, & Wang, 2009): the former model focuses attention on the relationships between infantile and adolescent growth, on the modalities through which the individual feels and works out the changes in himself or herself, and on the maturation of the Self, that constitutes the basic structure of the relationship with reality (Hartmann, 1964). The psychosocial approach, and in particular Erikson's theory, affirms that the individual develops from "psychosocial stages", and stresses that the experience that is produced by such settings influences the phases of development (Erikson, 1968; 1982).

Guichard and Huteau (2007), starting from the psychosocial model, represent adolescence as a phase of suspension, in which identity strategies are challenged and infantile identifications become identity; the adolescent constructs imaginary representations of himself or herself, which are not directly accessible to the conscience (Guichard, & Huteau, 2007; Wigfield, & Wagner, 2005).

Marcia's model (1989), instead, proposes to operationalize the psychosocial identity construct, defining it a dynamic structure and not a static one, whose formation depends on different factors like the "decisions" taken during life. The author works out the conception of identity statuses, which represent the styles through which to face identity problems, delineating two of their key components: the commitment with which adolescents make choices on material issues, and exploration of alternatives in relation to objectives, beliefs and convictions (Wigfield, & Wagner, 2005; Laghi, 2008; Pellerone, 2011, 2012; Pojaghi, 2008).

The author, jointly analyzing the two dimensions, identifies four identity statuses that correspond to as many modalities for facing events: to) Achievement, b) Moratorium, c) Foreclosure, d) Diffusion. In the achievement status the adolescent makes an identity choice after investigating the possible alternatives through experimentation; the moratorium status is characterized by tension and reflection on the different solutions, although a choice has not yet been made; that of foreclosure is typical of those adolescents that cling uncritically to the first identificatory models without experimenting with alternative ones; the diffusion status is typical of those who effect superficial experimentations, without reflections and therefore not aiming at a future commitment (Crocetti, Rubini, & Meeus, 2008; Pojaghi, 2008).

According to Marcia' model, Wigfield and Wagner (2005) organized the four identity statuses along a healthy (acquisition of identity and moratorium) vs. unhealthy continuum (foreclosure and diffusion of identity) showing that: students with a positive identity status differ from those with negative status due to the capacity to have

good relationships with classmates, positive emotions connected with academic goals, a good level of self-effectiveness, self-esteem, high learning motivation and an effective process ofdecision making. Likewise Kathleen and collaborators (2006), on a sample of 133 subjects, investigated how these people choose their future profession, hypothesizing a correlation between decisional modality and aptitude for planning in relation to cognitive structures. From the study it emerges that the modality with which adolescents choose their professional future is linked to ethical principles and moral values, showing that indecision is correlated with lack of capacity for exploration both of the environment and of the self. This places young people in a risk condition, since undecided students seem to show poor perception of themselves and the social context they belong to and therefore to be more inclined to make not very effective choices.

Hence in adolescence the lack of decisional competences is correlated with a lack of that knowledge of one's own abilities and present and future preferences that is necessary to work out a self-image mirroring one's own identity (Petter, 2002).

Thus the decisional process is a complex and dynamic one and constitutes a competence that is concretized in a personal style of choice, characterized by two general decisional modalities, one typical of those people that have the tendency to seek the best possible result, defined Maximizers, and one characterized by the tendency to be sufficiently satisfied with a good alternative, the Satisficers (Nenkov, Morrin, Waerd, Schwartz, & Hulland, 2008; Schwartz, Ward, & Monterosso, 2002).

Mann (1989) proposes five decisional styles, grouped in two macro-categories: adaptive, which includes the self-confident and vigilant style (which attentively considers all the choices before facing decisions); and disadaptive or anxiety-provoking categories (during the creation of the decisional process), evasive (with a tendency to procrastinate) and complacent (following others' advice).

Likewise, the model of Scott and Bruce (1995) distinguishes five decisional styles: Rational (characterized by a complete and exhaustive search for information and consequences); Intuitive (attentive to global aspects, reducing the systematic search for information); Dependent (linked to others' advice and suggestions); Avoiding (represented by the tendency to avoid or procrastinate); and Spontaneous (the choice is dictated by immediate feelings).

The literature shows that styles in decision making are predictors of the modalities and outcome of the execution of complex tasks, like problem-solving, coping style, learning and the process of vocational decision-making. In this connection, adolescents with a sure decisional process have the ability to plan their careers and a highly developed vocational identity, which is enacted through greater exploration of the self and the environment, with initial awareness of the decisional process, followed by a capacity for evaluation of the possible career alternatives on the basis ofinterests, skills and values (Hirshi, & Lage, 2007).


The literature details the role of individual differences, skills, and resources during the use of coping strategies, and the importance ofunderstanding how people avoid and offset potential stressors.

For example, Aspinwaal and Taylor (1997) analyze the processes through which people anticipate or detect potential stressors and act in advance to prevent them from happening or to mute their impact (proactive coping). The authors describe five stages in proactive coping: 1) resource accumulation, 2) recognition of potential stressors, 3) initial appraisal, 4) preliminary coping efforts, 5) elicitation and use of feedback concerning initial efforts.

Most of studies indicate that strategies coping serve two main purposes: to reduce the risk of harmful consequences of stressful event (problem-focused coping) and to contain negative emotional reactions (coping focused on emotions). The first type of coping is divided in two factors, active coping and planning over; the second type is expressed in four factors (Lyne and Roger, 2000):

a) spacing (to deny the existence ofthe problem);

b) self-control (not to be carried away by their emotions);

c) accountability (considered more or less responsible for the situation);

d) positive reappraisal (recognizing the changes that come from the modified situation, to see reality from a positive point ofview.

A second group of research has distinct strategies to approach compared to avoidance strategies (for example, the dimensions of" monitoring" and "blunting" studied by Miller, 1987); in according to this theory, the greater is the sense ofcontrol experienced by the individual and the greater the use ofstrategies to approach. Finally, a third perspective has especially emphasized the role of social support, which Lazar represents as a dimension common to many coping strategies. Literature shows that life satisfaction is positively correlated to coping strategy and social support seeking in fact; in detail life satisfaction is significantly correlated to decision self-esteem and to all decision-making styles (vigilance, buckpassing, procrastination, and hypervigilance). In addition, significant relationships were found among coping with stress, decision self-esteem and decisionmaking styles (Deniz, 2006).

Robitschek and Cook (2002) show the relationship between personal characteristics and vocational identity to investigate both career exploration processes and outcomes. The authors study a group of college students, 107 women and 98 men, according to Harren's model of personal characteristics. Results show that personal initiative predicts environmental exploration and vocational identity. Coping style predicts self-exploration. Social support is claimed to be the predictor ofvocational identity by environmental exploration.

Recently, Radford et collegues (Radfor, Mann, Ohta and Nakane, 2010) study decisional self-esteem, decisional stress, and they examine decision coping styles in a group of 743 Japanese and 309 Australian university students. Results of this study show that for both cultural groups the decisional self-esteem is positively correlated with decision making style, but is negatively correlated with decisional stress and the "complacency," "avoidance," and "hypervigilance" coping styles in personal decision making. There are some cultural differences, in particular Japanese students show lower decisional self-esteem than Australian students, but higher decisional stress, complacency, avoidance, and hypervigilance coping styles than Australian students. These findings are related to cross-cultural differences between Australian individualistic culture and Japanese collectivistic culture.


1.3.1 Objectives and research hypothesis

The aim of the present research is to explore whether there is a relationship between identity statuses, operationalized in high profile (acquisition and moratorium) and low profile (blockage and diffusion) and the level of the academic success measured in the students participating in the research. In agreement with the

literature (Meeus et al., 2010, 1993; Wagner, & Wigfiled, 2005; Wigfield, 2005) it is hypothesized that adolescents with an adaptation status obtain higher average scores in academic performance level in comparison to students with a diffusion status.

A further objective is to investigate whether there is a relationship between Identity Status and decisional styles (classified according to the Model of Scott and Bruce). In agreement with the literature (Luyckx et al., 2009; Wigfiled, & Wagner, 2005), it is hypothesized that adolescents with a low-profile status sometimes tend to use a dependent decisional style (that is to say one characterized by the continual search for others' advice and opinions before facing a choice), and sometimes an avoiding style (typical of those people who make continual attempts serving, as much as possible, to avoid taking decisions).

The aim is also to investigate predictive variables of academic success, hypothesizing, as confirmation of the literature, that among the predictors we find the following: I) level of identity (Renninger, 2002); II) use of a rational decisional modality (Baiocco, D'Alessio, & Laghi, 2008); III) internally locus ofcontroll.

1.3.2 Participants

The research involved 82 students (10 males and 72 females) who attended the faculty of Human and Social Sciences of"Kore" University; with reference to the varying age, the participants were subsequently divided into:

a) a group constituted by 50 subjects, i.e. 7 males (14%) and 43 females (86%) aged between 18 and 21 (M = 19.86, S.D = 2.35);

b) a second group constituted by 32 students, i.e. 3 males (9%) and 29 females (91%) aged between 22 and 25 (M = 23.50; S.D = 1.30).

1.3.3 Measures

Questionnaire for collecting anam nestic data

Anamnestic data were collected through the administration of a questionnaire constructed ad hoc for the goals of the research, to acquire: basic information, age, gender, school, year attended, academic qualifications and profession ofparents, university performances level,

Ego Identity Process Questionnaire (EIPQ)

This is a tool by Balistreri, Busch-Rossnagel and Geisinger (1995) serving to investigate identity status development according to Marcia's Model. It is a scale constituted by 32 items that investigate the dimensions of exploration and commitment as distinctive elements. The Exploration level is measured through the analysis of four ideological domains: occupation, religion, politics and values. The Commitment level is investigated through four interpersonal domains: family, friendships, gender roles and capacity to enter into sentimental relationships.

Balistreri and collaborators (1995) report the estimates of internal validity of the tool: .80 for the results that indicate commitment, and .86 for the scores that indicate exploration; the scores that indicate reliability are .90 for commitment and .76 for exploration; the internal consistency is .72 and .71 respectively for commitment and exploration.

General Decision Making Style (GDMS)

The General Decision Making Style (Scott & Bruce; 1995), constructed for detecting individual decisional style, is a questionnaire consisting of 25 items grouped in five subscales corresponding to five decisional styles: Rational (deep search for information and systematic evaluation of alternatives), Intuitive (confidence in one's own intuitions and feelings), Dependent (search for advice and opinions from people that are considered competent), Avoiding (attempt to avoid decision making), and Spontaneous (making the choice in the shortest possible time).

The Italian version of the tool of Couyoumdjian, Baiocco and Del Miglio (2005) presents good reliability (average Cronbach alpha values above .75). A subsequent Italian version by Baiocco, Lagli, D'Alessio, Guerrieri and Di Chiacchio (2007) shows that the Cronbach alpha reliability coefficients with reference to the different

styles examined vary from a minimum of alpha .68 for the Rational scale to a maximum of .83 for the Avoiding and Spontaneous scales (average alpha .75)

Coping Orientation to Problems Experienced (COPE-NVI):

The Coping Orientation to Problems Experienced - New Italian Version (Sica, Magni, Ghisi, Altoe, Sighinolfi, Rocco, & Franceschini) represents an improvement of the previous Italian version of the COPE, a measure originally developed in the United States.

The COPE-NIV was administered to 458 individuals (50% females) belonging to the general community, together with various measures ofpsychopathology and a measure ofpsychological well-being. The questionnaire is formed by 60 item, grouped into 15 coping mechanisms: a) Activities: take some kind of action to eliminate stress or dampen the effects; b) Planning to overcome the problem; c) Deletion ofcompetitive activities; d) Containment of stress; e) Finding information; f) Researching moral support; g) Expressing emotions; h) Reinterpretation positive and growth, developing the critical experience in positive terms; i) Acceptance of the situation; 1) Devoting himself to religion; m) Humor taking; n) Negation; o) Behavioral detachment; P) Mind detachment; q) Use of drugs or alcohol. These coping mechanisms are being grouped into five large essentially independent dimensions: a) Social support, b) Avoidance strategies, c) Positive attitude, d) Problem solving and e) Turning to religion.

The COPE-NIV can be considered a useful and psychometrically valid tool for measuring coping styles in the Italian context.


The Univariate Analysis of Variance one way (ANOVA) is used to verify the hypothesis that students with a low-profile status tend to use a dependent and avoiding style; The Pearson's correlation is used to investigate the relation between decision making style, locus ofcontrol and identity status. To verify Predictors ofsuccess at school we are used the analysis ofHierarchical Regression.


The objective of the research was to investigate the relationship between development of the identity status, decisional styles and level oflocus ofcontrol in a group ofuniversity students.

From the analysis of the frequency distribution on the basis of identity development, the following emerges: 34.1% of the students are going through the Achievement identity status, followed by 23.2% with a Diffusion status; 22% with a Moratorium status; and 20.7% with a Foreclosure status. There are significant differences due either to the age variable with X2 (15N= 82)= 25.60, p = .04; but there aren't't differences due either to the gender variable with X2 (3 N= 82)= 2.43.

A design was done oftype 2 factorial multivariate variance (Gender) X 2 (Age; 19-22 vs. 23-27 years), to verify the influence ofthe independent variables on exploration and commitment, but MANOVA emphasises no effect ofgender x age interaction (Wilks's Lambda = .96; F = .52\p = NS).

The type 2 factorial MANOVA (Gender) X 2 to verify the influence of gender and age on the ideological and interpersonal domains emphasises the following the main effect of age and gender; the breakdown of the univariate effects shows differences compared to the gender variable in the dimension of value (F(l,81) = 5.54; p<.05), and differences compared to the age variable in the dimension of politic (F(l,81) = 2.87; p <.01): in detail girls present higher average scores in the domains ofvalue, and older students show higher average scores in the domain ofpolitic than younger students.

The Univariate Variance analysis stresses the influence of age on the use of rational decision making style (F(8,81 = 4.23; p <001) and spontaneous style (F (8,81) = 3.71; p < .001); the post hoc analysis (Tukey's method) shows the following: older individuals (23-27 years old) used more the rational style than younger students (19-22 years old), who had higher mean scores on the spontaneous style.

The type 2 factorial MANOVA (Gender) X 2 to verify the influence of gender and age on coping strategies emphasises the following the main effect of gender; the breakdown of the univariate effects shows differences in the dimension of social support (F(l,81) = 11.98; p <.01), and in the dimension of problem solving (F(l,81) = 4.51 \p <.05): in detail girls present higher average scores than man.

1.5.1 Influ ence of Identity Status

The objective was to investigate whether there is a relationship between Identity Status and Decisional Styles, in the hypothesis that students with a low-profile status tend to use a dependent and avoiding style. The Anova one way shows the significant linear effect on the avoiding styles due to identity development (F (3,81) = 5.23; £><.01): the breakdown of the univariate effects shows that subjects with a Diffusion status obtain the highest scores in the avoiding choice modalities (M = 14.73; S.D — 5.61), in comparison to individuals in Achievement status (M = 9.32; S.D — 4.94) . Thus the initial hypothesis appears to be confirmed, according to which students with a low-profile status manifest a tendency to assume avoiding or procrastinating behaviours when faced with a choice; however, the hypothesis that students with a low identity profile also have a preference for a dependent decisional style is disconfirmed.

1.5.2 Correlation between decision m aking style, locus of control and identity status

Pearson's correlation show that: a) spontaneous style is positively correlated with relationship dimension (r= .31; p <.01) and negatively with the gender role variable (r = -.22; p < .05); b) avoidant style is positively correlated with the importance of gender role (r = .23; p <.05) and relationship (r = .35; p <.01); c) rational style is negatively correlated with the relationship dimensions (r = -.26; p <.05) and positively with the work (r = .22\p <.05).

The decision making avoidant style is positively correlated with the use ofavoidance coping strategies (r = .54;_p <.01) and negatively correlated with the problem solving coping strategies (r = -.25;p <.05)

1.5.2 Predictors of success at school and decision m aking style

In reference to school performance, the analysis of Hierarchical Regression with separate blocks shows that bringing the decision making style into model has no significant effect, although 20% of the variance is accounted for by the remaining variables, which in order of importance are exploration (P = .30), and commitment (P = .36).

In reference to decision making process, the analysis of Hierarchical Regression show that the age (P = .46) and level ofexploration (P = .21) can be considered predictive variables to the use ofrational decision style. The avoidant (P = .63) and dependent (P = -.21) styles are predictive variables to the avoidance coping strategies; the level of self exploration can be considered a predictive dimension to the problem solving coping strategies (P = .42)


The present work, starting from the limits and the external validity of Marcia's model, has explored the relationship between the development of identity statuses and the modalities used to face the process of vocational choice, through the use of a particular decisional style (Model of Scott & Bruce, 1995). The results of the research show that, for classification of identity statuses, a higher percentage of adolescents goes through the status of Foreclosure, followed by those in Diffusion and Moratorium; these data confirm that, consistently with the average age of the group, most adolescents still cling uncritically to the first identificatory models without experimenting with possible alternatives; others make superficial explorations not oriented towards a choice and a future commitment.

The results obtained also point out the main effect of the gender variable on some domains: boys express greater predilection for the area of politics, compared to girls, who attribute greater importance to the dimension of

value. These results are in line with the literature, which stresses the presence of gender differences in friendly relations: while relations between girls are based on the sharing of interests and values, those between boys are based on personal experience and feelings (Garelli, Polmonari, & Sciolla, 2006; Tani, Rossi, & Smorti, 2005). The analysis of decisional styles shows that girls have a greater propensity to make choices linked to other people's advice and suggestions, a datum in agreement with the literature (Gati, et al. 2010); younger people use a spontaneous decisional style significantly more than older ones. The latter datum confirms the traditional theories on development, which maintain that there is progressive evolution of the modalities of choice, from a more instinctive style or one linked to the desire for immediateness to more logical and rational decisional modalities.

The correlations between GDMS and EIPQ confirm the initial hypothesis, according to which adolescents with a low identity profile (Diffusion Status) tend to procrastinate the most important choices for their life, as confirmed by the literature (Luyckx et al., 2009; Wigfiled, & Wagner, 2005); although the assumption appears to be disconfirmed that a low-profile identity status is also associated with use ofa dependent decisional style. The subjects with the propensity to use avoidant style, during decision making process, have recourse to avoidance coping strategies, but they haven't the tendency to use problem solving strategies to resolve their problems. The avoidant and dependent decision making styles are predictive variables to the avoidance coping strategies; the level of self exploration can be considered a predictive dimension to the problem solving coping strategies.


The research investigated the relationship among development of identity, coping strategies and decisional style in university students during the process of vocational decision making, in an endeavour to confirm some fundamental theoretical assumptions, to offer interesting suggestions and useful implications for the application ofvocational planning actions.

The initial assumption was that today's assessment procedures should not be used for the purpose of classifying the personality, but to furnish the adolescent with useful information to stimulate in him or her self-discovery and the capacity to ask himself or herself some questions. In this connection, the method of quantitative investigation was backed up by an idiographic procedure helping to favour an analysis of the roles taken on by adolescents faced with the decisional process and of the modalities with which it is possible to express self-concepts and identity development in the transition towards integration in the labour market.

In this connection, economic changes and changes in the labour force of today's society, which often limit the vocational decisional process, stress the fact that not everyone can always make training or professional choices on the basis of their interests; in this case Holland's theory and the application of the model can only help students to explore career choices within those professional alternatives that are feasible and available. Hence intervening in the development ofthe adolescent identity process proves to be fundamental for the purpose of improving the level ofschool performance, but above all the decisional process, since adolescents with a more evolved identity use a multiplicity ofdecisional styles that are well suited to contextual situations. In conclusion, considering the importance of the decision-making for the present and future life of every individual, it is a topic which remains to be studied in depth.


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