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The Relationship between Identity Development Processes and Psychological Distress in Emerging Adulthood Open Access

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Emerging adulthood is a time of exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between, and possibility. As individuals navigate the challenges of this time and approach the tasks of becoming an adult, they can experience a wide range of positive and negative feelings related to distress, adjustment, and well-being. The quest for identity is considered a hallmark of this age period (Arnett, 1998). This study explores the transition period of emerging adulthood as it relates to the identity development process and psychological difficulties and well-being during this time and investigates the moderating effect of perceived emerging adultness on the relationship between identity development and psychological distress. A sample of 254 community college students ages 18-29 (mean age = 21.3 years) completed eight self-report measures consisting of one measuring emerging adulthood themes (Inventory of the Dimensions of Emerging Adulthood; Reifman, Arnett, & Colwell, 2007), two measuring identity development processes (Dimensions of Identity Development Scale; Luyckx et al., 2008 and Identity Style Inventory; Berzonsky, 1992a, 1992b), three measuring relevant aspects of psychological distress (Kessler Psychological Distress Scale; Kessler et al., 2002, Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test; Babor et al., 1989, and Reckless Behavior Questionnaire; Arnett, 1989), and two measuring aspects of well-being (Schwartz Outcome Scale; Blais et al., 1999 and Satisfaction with Life Scale; Pavot & Diener, 1993). Although some interaction effects suggested that perceived emerging adultness moderated the relationship between the identity development process and psychological distress and well-being, a great majority of the sample was reportedly that of highly perceived emerging adults who generally have moderate levels of anxiety and depression, low levels of alcohol use and reckless behaviors, and moderate levels of overall positive adjustment and satisfaction with life. While the features of emerging adulthood continue to be both exciting and tumultuous, these findings suggest that emerging adults are potentially accepting the characteristics of this time of life and in fact, embracing them, rather than feeling overwhelmed and distressed and acting out. These results offer further insight into the developmental processes during the emerging adulthood phase and offer clinical and outreach recommendations for mental health professionals who work with this population.

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