Identity Development and Political Self-Regulation as Predictors of Political Attitudes and Behaviors

Identity Development and Political Self-Regulation as Predictors of Political Attitudes and Behaviors
Marie Walker and Emma Iverson
Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN

This research examined connections among identity development constructs, self-regulation, political attitudes and political information-seeking behaviors.  Emerging Adulthood (Arnett, 2004) is a developmental theory that characterizes ages 18-25 as a distinct period with an increased tendency toward identity exploration, possibilities, instability, self-focus and feeling in-between. Ego-identity status (Marcia, 1980) theory suggests one’s level of identity development is determined by dimensions of identity exploration and commitment.

One domain from which young adults create their identity is the political arena. Societal expectations can lead young adults to internalize political beliefs, thus producing different types of self-regulation in the political domain (Koestner et al, 1996; Losier et al., 2001). Those who self-identify with politics (identification motivation) are more likely to seek political information compared to those who do it because they feel obligated (introjection motivation).


Identity exploration constructs, such as emerging adulthood, were expected to predict political beliefs and information seeking. Both identity exploration and commitment were expected to predict political attitude strength because one can develop strong attitudes from exploratory behavior or from making a commitment to a political orientation. Political behavior, such as information seeking, was expected to be best predicted by identity exploration constructs.

The self-regulatory style of identification and intrinsic motivation were expected to predict political attitude strength and behavior because identification is the regulatory style most likely to predict actual voting behavior (Koestner et al., 1996) and internalization of political attitudes is linked to stability of attitudes. 


Participants: Our sample was recruited in the two weeks prior to 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. Students filled out questionnaires for course credit.  205 women and 114 men with a mean age of 19.6 participated. 

Measures:  The main measures were the Inventory of Dimensions of Emerging Adulthood (Reifman et al., 2007), the Self-Determination Scale of Political Motivation (Koestner et al., 1996), and the Ego Identity Process Questionnaire (Balistreri, et al., 1995)

Results and Discussion

The only significant predictors of political views from emerging adulthood subscales were negativity/instability and other-focus. Marginally significant self-regulatory predictors of political views were identification and introjection.

Political attitude strength was reliably predicted by all four self-regulatory styles with intrinsic motivation and identification positively related and introjection and amotivation negatively related. Identity exploration and commitment predicted political attitude strength with identity commitment accounting for greater variance.

Emerging adulthood subscale, other-focus, was a positive predictor of political information-seeking, whereas the self-regulatory style of amotivation was a significant negative predictor. Both identity exploration and commitment significantly predicted political information-seeking.

Correlations amongst subscales of emerging adulthood, identity exploration and commitment provide discriminant and convergent validity for the emerging adulthood inventory. In 2008 compared to 2004, young adults scored significantly higher on emerging adulthood subscales of identity exploration and negativity/instability and lower in political information-seeking. 


Political self-regulatory style can be used to predict some aspects of political attitudes and behavior before a federal election. Although two subscales of emerging adulthood predicted political views, identity exploration and commitment were better predictors of political attitude strength and political behavior than emerging adulthood.