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  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: September 2009

8 - The role of ethnic identity in personality development


Environmental contributions to personality development are often overlooked, perhaps because of a tendency to focus on internal dispositions. Departing from this position, Kurt Lewin (1939) asserted that context permeates all aspects of development, including personality. His work was instrumental to the realization that race and ethnicity shape and define many psychological environments, and that ethnic identity is contextually constructed. The degree to which ethnicity influences personality development depends upon the degree to which ethnic groups are a salient feature of the environment: the more prominent ethnicity is in the environment, the more central ethnic identity will be to self-concepts.

In this chapter, we present the argument that ethnic identity is an important component of personality, with developmental trajectories and sequellae that vary according to context. This thesis will be developed across four sections. First, we present a conceptual model that specifies mechanisms whereby group membership contributes to personality development. Lewin's (1939) field theory will serve as the framework for our discussion of group membership and ethnic identity. Second, we review the literature on ethnic identity development, paying particular attention to environmental factors that contribute to variations in developmental trajectories. Third, we discuss research that describes associations between ethnic identity and individual adjustment. There is evidence that ethnic identity promotes self-esteem, academic achievement, and psychosocial adjustment, especially among minority culture youth. Finally, we will summarize new findings that describe the correlates of adolescent ethnic identity.

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