Individual Difference and the Environment: an Interactionist Approach

Individual Difference and the Environment: an Interactionist Approach

My ontological view on human development holds that while there are many classical and seemingly all-encompassing theories on how humans develop throughout time, there is not one theory that can ever truly account for the inevitable variable of human individual variance.  Surely, a nurturing environment can optimize a genotype to act as a phenotype which purports for great achievement and civic contributions to society.  Yet as every human genetic code is unique, so is his or her ultimate behavior and development.  For example, no matter how convincingly an individual might fall on the higher end of the introverted continuum, pursuing perhaps a career as a librarian, throughout his or her experiences which life brings about, this person can diffuse this identity to head into yet another moratorium, even later in life (Marcia, 1966).  For indeed, finding oneself can be a lifelong process.

To this extent, I value human experience with the environment and the social world as the ultimate factors for development.  Granted some traits are hard-wired and innate; yet even Darwin (1858) observed the effects of certain environments on the survival traits of species.  In the human species, I believe we are inherently social creatures.  Therefore, I believe in the efficacy of a healthy marriage between nature and nurture, for learning and developing with interaction with others, I argue, is an innately human feature, just as the ability to communicate through language is innate (Chomsky).  For learning is indeed a social practice (Vygotsky, 1978), and when students are given more independence and responsibility for their learning, they can learn much more rapidly in such a community of learners (Rogoff, 1994).  Therefore, an organismic conceptual model which allows students to explore through their natural inclinations (Rousseau) and interactions with others and with the environment is what I hold as the most effective and inclusive framework for human development.

For example, when I think back on my own education, most of the things I learned were through conversation and discussion with others, rather than a one-sided lecture.  Therefore, in my teaching practice and in my lifelong effort to learn and discover new things from my experiences, I will strive to create a community of learners, recognizing that there are myriad individual differences and internal schemata which can be activated and optimized in many different ways, namely by knowing your students and differentiating instruction to best suit the students’ needs.

Marcia’s Elaboration of Erik Erikson’s Psychoanalytically-based Theory on Identity Construction.

Eric Erikson posited quintessential texts on identity construction throughout a human lifetime.  By focusing on the role of the adaptive nature of the ego rather than so much on the repressed ID as Freud did, Erikson was able to expand and complicate psychoanalytic identity theory to involve such critical terms as ‘identity diffusion,’ and ‘crisis’ and ‘commitment’ (Lerner, 2002).

As Anna Freud asserted, adolescence can be a stormy time for human development (Crain, 2011).  A person must face the critical period when he or she will ask “who am I?”  In this time a person must find a role to commit to within society (Erikson, 1963).  This identity resolution to emotional fidelity marks a critical period in a young adult’s life (Lerner, 2002). Thus the crisis/commitment paradigm holds universal heuristic and practical value for understanding the nature of human development during this critical period of adolescence.

Marcia (1966) however, importantly elaborated on this duality, adding two more critical quadrants of identity construction.  Importantly, Marcia’s work led theorists and researchers to understand the value of a moratorium/achievement relationship that can reoccur throughout one’s life as he continues to experience new things and develop.  This theoretically broke from the linear hierarchic understanding of development and shed new light on identity formation that can develop in adolescence or even later in life.  Whereas those in ‘diffusion’ and ‘foreclosure’ will often despair or panic at the onset of an identity crisis, those in moratorium are notably not in diffusion but rather in a state of confusion and crisis that is adaptive and able to achieve a new identity (Lerner, 2002).

The area of convergence then for both Marcia and Erikson on identity construction is the duality of crisis/commitment.  Marcia’s (1966) elaboration on Erikson’s identity construction work however is furthermore useful for understanding how identity construction can be much more diverse, particularly in the critical age of adolescence when one must find his role in order to establish a positive self-esteem and committed ideology in society (Lerner, 2002).  This is good news for youth who like to “leave their options open,’ when picking a major or a vocation.  For such youth who are not totally diffused from attempting to find themselves but just do not know exactly in what direction to start, Marcia (1966) added the category of moratorium which accounts for adolescents who are ambivalent and still searching for their identity (in Lerner, 2002).  In example, a hypothetical youth was heavily pressured to do well in school and attain a decent profession as his parents did.  The youth in moratorium may attempt to establish his role in society under this identity but may later find that it is not consistent with his own internal volition and he may opt to totally diffuse this parentally-influenced identity and join the Army.  The Army then, does not have to be his identity for the rest of his life, but a continuing moratorium where he can achieve rank and experience and then later decide to go back to school to study a subject of his own volition such as screenwriting, a medium through which he can tell of his experiences and his evolving identity.  The bottom line is that while there exists a general hierarchic pattern of identity construction with periods of qualitatively marked differences resulting in psychosocial, psychosexual and emotional personality traits on various lines of continua (Lerner, 2002), this progression from one period to the next is not set in stone.  In other words, if a youth develops a negative identity with low self-esteem early in life, this can change at the onset of a possible moratorium as some adolescences and even older people can continue to evolve their identity construction through their own choices and experiences.

In sum, a prolonged identity crisis or identity confusion does not necessarily condemn a subject into eternal identity diffusion.  As long as one continues to search, one can establish a new identity.  This is optimistic news, especially for homosexuals reared in traditional households.  For as Erikson held a strict naturist, Freudian approach to psychosexual development under the perceived scientific tenet that “anatomy is destiny” (Lerner, 2002), homosexuals and others whose intrinsic differential impulses made up their own volitions for identities against what the psychosexual ideas of development concerning perceived normative and biological gender influences on identity, can now bank on Marcia’s theory and empirical work which accounts for the critical category of ‘moratorium’ for those who are initially lost and not so easily found.  The more diverse and adaptive nature of Marcia’s (1966) theorem seems far more applicable to contemporary times where there is much more individual variance and hegemonic negotiation.


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