Today, we consider #7: Identity Accommodation Decreases with Age.
The seventh and final factor that makes it so difficult to reach the Identity Achievement status is Accommodation.
Both Assimilation and Accommodation are part of Piaget’s adaptation process. This process helps explain how we think about the world as we interact with it, including how we think about ourselves.
Accommodation in particular involves changing our schemes, or patterns of thought, to better fit with new information. Let us consider again our example situation from our Assimilation discussion in post #6. We view our self as an attractive friend, given how kind and interesting we think ourselves to be.
As we discussed in that post though, the first time a friend doesn’t show up for the dinner reservation to which we mutually agreed months ago, we assume that work responsibilities held him/her up at the office. And we do not attribute any personal motives to our friend for not showing (e.g., he/she shunning us).
It is this failure to make such attributions that prevents us from reconsidering our identity though.
On the other hand, let us consider Accommodation. Should the friend fail to show a third time, we may begin to question ourselves. Not only is our ostensible dinner partner perhaps lacking in the assertiveness to tell us that he/she no longer wants to be friends, but perhaps we aren’t as attractive as a friend (e.g., kind and/or interesting) as we like to think we are.
Changing the way we think about ourselves, by incorporating new information (e.g., our friend has failed, once again, to show for a dinner date, despite our patience and understanding – so perhaps we should reconsider how kind and/or interesting we are) into our current identity is the Accommodation process.
And it is this Accommodation process that is correlated negatively with age. That is, we tend to not alter the way we think about our self, and the world, the older we are. Just as with the greater Assimilation that occurs with age, the less Accommodation that occurs with age provides us with a sense of personal continuity.
So as we grow older, we are less likely to reconsider ourselves and explore who we are. This may be adaptive, particularly when research, at least with adolescents, indicates that reconsideration is associated with high levels of anxiety.
Yet a lack of self-examination in the extreme simply renders us defensive, engaging regularly in self-justification, lacking in insight -- and ultimately not growing as a person. Nor reaching Identity Achievement.
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Grotevant, H. D. (1987). Toward a process model of identity formation. Journal of Adolescent Research, 2, 203-222.
Kroger, J. (2007). Why is identity achievement so elusive? Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 7(4), 331–348.
Luckx, K., Schwartz, S. J., Goossens, L., Beyers, W., & Missotten, L. (2011). Processes of personal identity formation and evaluation (pp. 77-98). In S. J. Schwartz, K. Luyckx, & V. L. Vignoles (Eds.), Handbook of Identity Theory and Research: Volume 1, Structures and Processes. New York, NY: Springer Science + Business Media, LLC.
Whitbourne, S. K. (1996). The aging individual: Physical and psychological perspectives. New York: Springer-Verlag.