In the study of psychology, identity is centrally concerned with understanding people and their everyday lives. The aim of psychological theories of identity is to define identity and to explain the processes that produce it. Identity seems to be a simple day-to-day issue and it is easily to be researched by some simple methods; but in the eyes of psychologists, it is more complex and precise. Therefore, they approach information and knowledge in a systematic and consciously articulated way with those main research methods and theories to help us think and understand, for example: identity.
The three main influential psychological identity theories are Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory of Identity, Social Identity Theory(SIT) and the Social Construction of Identities. First of all, research process requires a specific topic has to be chosen, concepts have to be defined and the aims of the research have to be clearly specified. Furthermore, researchers have to ensure that research is relevant and establish what research has already been done on the topic by examining the existing literature. The research question itself has to be answerable.
Then researcher has to formulate hypothesis in the process of their research investigation. Once the research question has been devised, researchers need to decide whoever will be the participants. With all the above, they need to set which kinds of method to be used to collect and analyze data. The most commonly used psychological methods are experiments, questionnaires, interviews, psychological tests, observations, and meaning and language-based methods. Those data will be the actual images produced and converted into evidence in order to evaluate to form theory.
There are close linkages between theory and method in psychological research process. As mention before, research methods concern the strategies of scientific research that psychologists employ in order to gather evidence to support theories about human behaviour and experiences. Research studies produce data which can be used to test hypotheses, describe phenomena or promote exploration of a new study area. Researchers do not select a particular method. A method is chosen which should produce data in the most unbiased, accurate and appropriate manner. This is essential for psychological research is to be considered scientific.
Although each research method has its limitations, psychologists can come to relatively confident conclusions by combining different methods, allowing the strengths of one method to compensate for the weaknesses of another. Psychologists take different perspectives on psychological issues, which means they ask different questions, use different methods and data, and produce different theories. Some psychological theories are built up from a consideration of people’s beliefs, experiences which is called insider viewpoint; while the others make sense of human psychology from an outsider viewpoint.
Insider and outsider viewpoint are searched from different associated research methods. Firstly, insider viewpoint is the data provided from the research methods which cannot be ‘seen from the outside’, such as interviews and analyses of what people say and how something is communicated. For example, questionnaires and interviews are studies in which people are asked to report on their beliefs, opinions or behaviours. This is a variant on introspection and they can be analyzed either quantitatively or qualitatively.
Psychological tests structured forms of self report with a large numbers of people such as intelligence tests and personally tests. It is possible to compare a particular individual’s test scores with the average from the population and to make statistical comparisons between different groups. Furthermore, outsider viewpoint is the data provided from the research methods which can be ‘seen from the outside’, such as experiments and observation. Experiments involve the manipulation of variables to determine their casual relationship with behaviour and mental processes.
Systematic observation involves the use of a strict coding system, trained observers, an organized observational procedure, and checks on inter-observer reliability. Qualitative observation can involve less structured recording and a fuller account of behaviour and its context. Introspectionist test of identity called the Twenty Statements Test is commonly used in the study of identity. But now let us concentrate on to two theories of identity which their method used both adapt the elements of insider and outsider viewpoints.
Firstly, Psychological theory of identity viewed by Erik Erikson and James Marcia is called Psychosocial Theory of Identity that means social and personal identities are interlink. It recognizes the influence of both personal and social factors on identity development. Erikson developed the psychosocial theory of identity from clinical and naturalistic observations and his own biographical work. He was the first theorist to view identity as psychosocial. He explained identity involves the development of a stable, consistent and reliable sense of who we are and what we stand for in the world that makes sense for us and for our community.
Different identities are produced in different historical periods and cultures and the development of identity is related to how people see both their past and their future. He saw the achievement of identity as a lifelong development process after finishing his clinical work with veterans of the Second World War. This naturalistic observation as well as research method was simply explained with an account of outsider viewpoint. He identified eight stages of identity development in which each stage builds on what has gone before, but goes beyond the previous stage to provide the foundation for the next.
He found it is particularly important in the stage of the fifth psychosocial stage, adolescence, in which the achievement of identity was the major development task and is accompanied by normative ‘crisis’. He saw adolescence is a period of ego identity that means people need to secure their feeling of who and what one is; and psychosocial moratorium that means young people can try out different social roles in order to find their own niche in society within a social approved period.
Erickson found that some young people is impossible to make commitments to adult roles and many experience some difficulty, hence it is a period of identity crisis. Moreover, he called the failure to achieve a secure ego identity role diffusion. Threats to identity lead to over-identification with cliques and aggression. James Marcia provided a method that allows Erikson’s ideas on identity to be measured which is semi-structure interviews. This interview designed to cover particular themes that allow flexibility in how questions are asked.
This interview can be analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively. Qualitative data are obtained when researchers interview people and keep a record of what they say or making observations of people’s behaviour and record these verbally. Quantitative date are obtained when researcher often code what the participants say in to categories and then look at the percentage of the sample who give particular types of answers; then they can do statistical analyses if there are systematic difference between the types of answers.
By using this method, researchers can gather a great range of data from participants and analyze them in different way. So it is illustrated together with and account of insider and outsider viewpoints. Marcia adapted Erikson’s theory, but he devised the Identity Status Interview as a method of studying four identity statuses which is identity diffusion, identity foreclosure, moratorium and identity achievement. The above Psychosocial Theory of Identity are concentrated more on the individual, personal aspects of identity than on group identities.
Now we studied the other theory called The Social Construction of Identities. It was considered that ideas are socially produced and not originated by a single person. Social construction theory is the ways in which we understand the world are not just natural, but are constructed between people in everyday social interactions. It tells us that construction is a social process and is influenced from time to time and everyday identities are constructed through language and social relations.
There are several features of this theory. First of all, the same thing can be understood in different way like Nelson Mandela. He defined as terrorist by the white South African state under apartheid and he was imprisoned. However, as the anti-apartheid movement grew throughout the world, he was greeted as a hero and a freedom-fighter and later became the President of South Africa. Secondly, we actively construct identities through everyday social relations and identities change over time and as society and our relations change.
The US psychologist, Kenneth Gergen, gave us an everyday example and made a clear picture of which identity means. It stated that he grew up with fountain pens and was a writer by pen. His natural way and common practice was using pen to write and he had constructed for himself and identity as an academic whose writing with a pen was central to his identity. When he knew that he must change his practice to write by computer, he would like to cling on to pen and very against of using computer.
His identity changed dramatically in response to social and technological changes and he claimed that ‘This machine has virtually transformed my life’. This means what the identity we take up are affected by our social histories, social positions, relationships and experience. Identities are constructed differently in different culture that means we construct our identities on the ways of thinking and talking available in our society. The other psychologist, Stuart Hall, wrote an article about a black judge, Clarence Thomas who nominated by President Bush.
His accuse of sexual harassment by a black women arose different people with different point of view. It illustrated that there are similarities as well as difference in the identities of people constructed as belonging to either the same or different groups. Both of them used the method to examine identity that was likely to be introspection. It seems to be only involve the element of insider viewpoint, but on the other hand, symbolic data are also the data used in this theory. It provided evidence of meanings, and the processes that construct and communicate means.
The point about this approach is that they see language as constructive – the writers, those with insider viewpoint, are not always aware of what they are constructing. But symbolic data is analyzed from an outsider viewpoint and attempts to take the insider viewpoint. Identity is a commonly used term and important in our study of psychology. The above theories of identity gave us a brief concept of identity and introduced some of the methods used to study identities. We should remember that no matter how insider or outsider viewpoint is adapted, evidence as well as data are important to psychological study.