UBC Theses and Dissertations
Implications of emerging epistemic doubt for adolescent identity formation Boyes, Michael Clifford
This study was undertaken to evaluate the part which nascent skeptical doubt plays in shaping the course of adolescent social-cognitive development. Past attempts to relate the achievement of formal operations to the tasks of identity formation and other signature concerns of adolescence have yielded equivocal results. This failure is seen to be due in part to the "all or none" character often ascribed to formal operational thought. If formal reasoning is seen to be achieved in one piece, then there is little hope of accounting for the variability within adolescent development by pointing to such a monolith. It is argued in this thesis that the intellectual changes which accompany the acquisition of formal operational competence set in motion a series of developments which seriously undermine the typical adolescent's previous sense of epistemic certainty. The epistemic model proposed in the thesis leads to the hypothesis that, in response to such doubts, young persons adopt one or another of three contrasting interpretive levels or strategies each of which then dictates much about their subsequent solutions to the problems of identity formation and commitment. To test these predictions, 110 high school aged young people were prescreened using a battery of Piagetian measures and classified as being either concrete or formal operational. Those subjects who were clearly classifiable (N = 70) were individually administered: (1) Adams' Objective Measure of Ego identity Status (OM-EIS) which permits classification of respondents into diffused, foreclosed, moratorium, and achieved identity statuses; and (2) The Epistemic Doubt Interview, which is comprised of 2 story problems and a semi-structured interview procedure, based on the work of Piaget, Perry, and Kitchener and King, and designed to indicate both the presence of generic doubt and the respondent's characteristic coping strategy for dealing with such uncertainties. These include realistic, dogmatic, skeptical, and rational epistemic stances. The results indicate that the young people selected on the basis of the cognitive developmental screening procedures could be reliably and exhaustively assigned to a single epistemic level or to a modal and a single developmentally adjacent level. Only formal operational subjects appreciated the generic nature of the doubt undermining their epistemic certainty while the concrete operational subjects were largely confined to the ranks of the epistemic realists. Predictions regarding the anticipated relation between epistemic stance and ego identity status were supported. Virtually all of the subjects scored as epistemic realists were found in the diffusion and foreclosure statuses. Of those subjects who evidenced an appreciation of the generic nature of doubt, only epistemic dogmatists were scored as foreclosed. Only subjects scored as epistemic skeptics or rationalists were routinely found to be in the moratorium or achieved statuses. The results are taken as strong support for the claim that epistemic doubt plays a central role in shaping the course of adolescent social-cognitive development.