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Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 749–759 | Cite as

A Cross-Cultural Perspective on the Relationships between Emotional Separation, Parental Trust, and Identity in Adolescents

  • Kazumi Sugimura
  • Elisabetta Crocetti
  • Kai Hatano
  • Goda Kaniušonytė
  • Shogo Hihara
  • Rita Žukauskienė
Empirical Research
  • 380 Downloads

Abstract

Emotional separation and parental trust in parent–adolescent relationships are important factors for adolescent identity formation. However, prior research findings on emotional separation are inconsistent. This study aimed to conduct a more rigorous examination of the associations of emotional separation and parental trust with identity synthesis, confusion, and consolidation by applying a bi-factor model to identity, using adolescent samples from Lithuania (N = 610; 53.9% female; M age  = 14.92), Italy (N = 411; 57.4% female; M age  = 15.03), and Japan (N = 759; 43.7% female; M age  = 14.13). Structural equation modeling revealed that emotional separation and parental trust were consistently associated with identity consolidation across the three countries, rather than associated with identity synthesis and identity confusion. Furthermore, the patterns of associations of emotional separation and parental trust with identity synthesis and identity confusion differed across the three nations. Overall, this study provides a better understanding of the role of emotional separation and parental trust in adolescent identity formation by suggesting the importance of the identity consolidation in the association between parent–child relationships and identity formation across three countries.

Keywords

Identity Emotional separation Parental trust Adolescence Cross-cultural perspectives 

Introduction

Adolescence is the time of life when identity comes into ascendance (Erikson 1968). As Erikson (1968) described, the formation of one’s personal identity represents a fundamental developmental task during adolescence, and it serves as a compass to navigate the course of life beyond adolescence (Montgomery et al. 2008). While a coherent and consistent sense of identity results in high levels of well-being and psychological health, a confused sense of identity is associated with a cluster of problem behaviors (e.g., Schwartz et al. 2009; Schwartz et al. 2015). Forming a synthesized identity, therefore, is crucial for the healthy development of adolescents and to enhance their prospects of making a successful transition to adulthood.

A major factor that influences adolescent identity formation is the quality of the parent–adolescent relationship (e.g., Kroger and Marcia 2011, for a review). This study focused on emotional separation and parental trust as key dimensions of parent–adolescent relationships. Emotional separation is defined as increased deidealization and decreased reliance on parents for emotional regulation and support (Beyers et al. 2005; Steinberg and Silverberg 1986). Parental trust refers to the mutual understanding and respect between parents and adolescents (Armsden and Greenberg 1987). Prior studies have generally shown that parental trust contributed positively to adolescent identity formation (e.g., Crocetti et al. 2010), whereas the effects of emotional separation were inconsistent (e.g., Meeus et al. 2005; Pace and Zappulla 2009).

This study sought to shed new light on the associations of emotional separation and parental trust with adolescent identity formation in two main directions. First, we focused on Erikson’s (1968) original concepts about identity, which have not been taken into account in prior studies on the association between identity formation and parent–adolescent relationships. Specifically, we considered identity consolidation, referring to the overall concept based on the dynamic interplay between identity synthesis and confusion, both of which are necessary for the healthy development of identity (Schwartz 2007). Given that identity synthesis and identity confusion coexist to some extent within a person (Marcia 2002), it would be important to conduct a more rigorous examination of the three components of identity (i.e., synthesis, confusion, and consolidation) and their relationship with emotional separation and parental trust.

Second, we examined the associations between parent–adolescent relationships and adolescent identity formation in three national contexts. Although previous studies have separately examined these associations in different countries (e.g., Italy, the Netherlands, or the United States), it remains unclear whether the findings of each of these studies can be generalized to adolescents in other nations. Based on a sharp increase in interest regarding international perspectives on identity formation (Berman 2011; Schwartz et al. 2012), it is necessary to investigate if and how the pattern of relationships between emotional separation, parental trust, and identity share commonalities across various nations.

In the present study, we addressed the shortcomings of previous studies by shedding light on the associations among emotional separation, parental trust, and three identity components (i.e., synthesis, confusion, and consolidation) in adolescents from Eastern European (i.e., Lithuania), Southern European (i.e., Italy), and Asian (i.e., Japan) countries. Thus, we aimed to contribute more consistent findings to the literature on the role of emotional separation and parental trust in adolescent identity formation through a cross-cultural study focusing on specific identity components.

Identity

In his theory of psychosocial development, Erikson (1968) framed the identity developmental task (i.e., the psychosocial crisis that is predominant in the adolescent phase) as based on the dilemma of identity synthesis vs. identity confusion. Identity synthesis refers to a coherent and consistent sense of self over time and across situations, whereas identity confusion indicates a fragmented and changeable sense of self. Marcia (2002) provided the most enduring empirical operationalization of Erikson’s work by recasting and clarifying his conceptualization as identity synthesis with identity confusion. According to this view, identity is constructed as an interplay between synthesis and confusion. Such a perspective may be most consistent with Erikson’s understanding of identity as a hybrid that indicates both one’s overall sense of self (i.e., identity consolidation) and a sense of balance between identity synthesis and identity confusion (Schwartz 2007).

One of the measures that operationalize this identity perspective is the Erikson Psychosocial Stage Inventory (EPSI; Rosenthal et al. 1981), which has separate subscales on synthesis and confusion. The EPSI can be used to capture the hybrid conceptualization of identity using a bi-factor model (Chen et al. 2012) in which the hybrid identity dimension (i.e., identity consolidation) represents the overall valence of one’s identity, with synthesis and confusion serving as additional dimensions. This valence changes like a barometer (Mu et al. 2016) indicating the overall valence of one’s identity (i.e., identity consolidation), that is, identity synthesis with identity confusion or identity confusion with identity synthesis. Indeed, recent studies have tested a series of models for the EPSI and found that the fit of a bi-factor model was superior to that of one-factor (synthesis or confusion) or two-factor (synthesis and confusion) models among Japanese adolescents (Dimitrova et al. in press; Hatano et al. 2017) and among young adults in the United States (Schwartz et al. 2009). Moreover, these studies indicated that identity consolidation contributes to psychosocial outcomes (e.g., problem behaviors) above and beyond the contributions of identity synthesis and identity confusion over time (Hatano et al. 2017; Schwartz et al. 2009). These findings suggest that a bi-factor model might be the most optimal way to represent the three identity components and to understand their associations with meaningful psychosocial correlates.

The Role of Emotional Separation and Parental Trust in Adolescent Identity

One of the fundamental contexts for adolescent identity formation is the parent–adolescent relationship (Kroger and Marcia 2011, for a review). Two major theoretical frameworks explain identity formation within the context of family relationships: separation–individuation theory (Blos 1967) and attachment theory (Bowlby 1988). Although these theories share the core notion that the self develops within the interpersonal context of the parent–adolescent relationship, they have different explanations for how identity emerges from these relationships. Separation–individuation theory (Blos 1967) highlights the task of intrapsychic separation from the parental object. Disengagement from the internalized infantile objects (i.e., deidealization) is accompanied by ego maturation, through which a firm sense of self different from that of one’s parents emerges at the endpoint of the individuation process (Kroger 1998). On the contrary, attachment theory (Bowlby 1988) highlights warm and nurturing relationships with parents as a core factor that promotes identity formation. Based on the secure parental base, adolescents are expected to form good relationships with others while they confidently explore their own identity, developing the ability to manage difficulties and challenges (Bartholomew and Horowitz 1991).

This study focused on emotional separation (Beyers et al. 2005; Steinberg and Silverberg 1986) and parental trust (Armsden and Greenberg 1987), dimensions that were directly drawn from the separation–individuation and attachment theories, respectively. The relationships of emotional separation and parental trust with various aspects of adolescent psychosocial adjustment have been examined in several previous studies, which have generally revealed that emotional separation worked negatively in adolescent adjustment, whereas parental trust worked positively (McElhaney et al. 2009, for a review). For instance, high emotional separation was related to high internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors as signals of disengagement and conflicts in relationships with parents (e.g., Beyers and Goossens 1999; Lamborn and Steinberg 1993). Conversely, parental trust facilitated adolescents’ capacity to interact with their environment and, hence, was positively related to self-esteem and academic competence (e.g., Noom et al. 1999; Wilkinson 2004).

Focusing on identity, studies have consistently revealed that parental trust is a necessary condition for mature identity development (Årseth et al. 2009, for a meta-analysis). For instance, it was positively related to a firm sense of identity (Crocetti et al. 2010; Meeus et al. 2002), and warm and close relationships with parents (e.g., parent–adolescent communication) were positively associated with identity synthesis and negatively associated with identity confusion (Schwartz et al. 2008). Despite these consistent results regarding parental trust, findings on the relationship between emotional separation (consistent with separation–individuation theory; Blos 1967) and identity have yielded inconsistent results. Two studies in particular found that emotional separation was positively associated with adolescents’ identity formation (Mullis et al. 2009; Pace and Zappulla 2009). Other studies revealed that emotional separation was not associated with identity formation (Meeus et al. 2005), or that it was negatively associated with identity formation (Crocetti et al. 2017). Thus, while parental trust clearly promotes identity formation, the role of emotional separation remains unclear.

Despite making important contributions, the above studies did not examine the associations among emotional separation and parental trust with identity consolidation. This study employed a bi-factor model as the first attempt to reveal how the three components of identity (i.e., synthesis, confusion, and consolidation) are associated with the dimensions of parent–adolescent relationships (i.e., emotional separation and parental trust). Furthermore, we addressed this issue in multiple cultural contexts, as explained below.

Adolescence in Lithuania, Italy, and Japan

The cross-cultural literature on identity highlights the fact that both social situations (e.g., affluence and political stability) and cultural values (e.g., individualism and collectivism) can explain similarities and differences in the association between parent–adolescent relationships and identity formation (Berman 2011; Schwartz et al. 2012). With regard to the issue of social situations, the three nations under investigation (i.e., Lithuania, Italy, and Japan) are relatively affluent and politically stable societies, where adolescents have ample opportunities to search for their own identity, focus on themselves, and determine what kind of person they want to become (Crocetti et al. 2012; Sugimura and Mizokami 2012; Žukauskienė et al. 2017).

Despite important similarities, the three nations have different cultural values. Lithuanian and Italian cultures score high on individualism compared to the Japanese culture (Hofstede et al. 2010). People living in individualistic cultures pursue personal agency, uniqueness, and accomplishments in their way of being (Markus and Kitayama 2010). In contrast, Japanese culture has been referred to as collectivist (Triandis 1995), in which individual and group goals are interdependent; hence, people exhibit personal autonomy and self-directed processes only moderately (Markus and Kitayama 2010).

On the basis of these cultural differences, it appears plausible that adolescents in Lithuania and Italy (i.e., individualistic cultures) are exposed to strong cultural demands for maximizing a synthesized (or minimizing a confused) sense of personal identity, while adolescents in Japan (i.e., a collectivist culture) are less exposed to such demands. Therefore, the relationships of emotional separation and parental trust with identity synthesis and identity confusion may be more salient in Lithuanian and Italian adolescents than in Japanese adolescents.

Current Study

The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between emotional separation, parental trust, and identity. On the basis of the Eriksonian perspective, we assessed identity by considering three components: identity synthesis, identity confusion, and identity consolidation (Rosenthal et al. 1981; Schwartz et al. 2009), through a bi-factor model. The bi-factor model allowed us to model Erikson’s view of identity that identity consolidation represents the overall valence of one’s identity, where synthesis and confusion serve as additional dimensions (Schwartz et al. 2009). We sought to uncover the associations of emotional separation and parental trust with each identity component for adolescents from three different countries: Lithuania, Italy, and Japan. We thought it particularly worthwhile to include a non-Western country in our analysis because identity formation outside Western countries remains largely unexplored (Schwartz et al. 2012; Sugimura and Mizokami 2012, for reviews).

We put forth two hypotheses. First, based on previous findings about the role of emotional separation and parental trust in adolescent psychosocial adjustment (e.g., Beyers and Goossens 1999; Noom et al. 1999), we hypothesized that emotional separation would be negatively related to synthesis and positively related to confusion, while parental trust would be positively associated with synthesis and negatively associated with confusion. Specifically, given the previous findings about stronger and more consistent relationships between identity consolidation—rather than identity synthesis and identity confusion—and correlates (Hatano et al. 2017; Schwartz et al. 2009), we expected that this pattern of results would consistently emerge in the associations with identity consolidation in all three national contexts under investigation. In bi-factor models, the overall valence of one’s identity (i.e., identity consolidation) could be either that of synthesis with confusion (Hatano et al. 2017) or confusion with synthesis (Dimitrova et al. in press). Therefore, emotional separation would be negatively, and parental trust would be positively, related to identity consolidation when the valence is positive (i.e., synthesis with confusion), and emotional separation would be positively, and parental trust would be negatively, related to identity consolidation when the valence is negative (i.e., confusion with synthesis).

Second, based on the propositions about differences in cultural values (e.g., Hofstede et al. 2010; Markus and Kitayama 2010), we hypothesized that in Lithuanian and Italian adolescents, emotional separation and parental trust would be associated with identity synthesis, identity confusion, and identity consolidation, while in Japanese adolescents, emotional separation and parental trust would have a stronger association with identity consolidation than with identity synthesis and identity confusion.

Methods

Participants and Procedure

The participants were 1780 (50.4% female; M age  = 14.61, SD = 1.55) adolescents aged 12–18 years from three countries: Lithuania (N = 610; 53.9% female, M age  = 14.92, SD = 1.11), Italy (N = 411; 57.4% female, M age  = 15.03, SD = 1.80), and Japan (N = 759; 43.7% female, M age  = 14.13, SD = 1.57). Lithuanian and Japanese data for this study were drawn from the ongoing longitudinal IDELIJA project (Identity Development among Adolescents and Emerging Adults in Lithuania and Japan); adolescent data were collected from junior high schools and high schools. Regarding Italian data, adolescents were contacted by a researcher’s assistant in schools. Participants from all three nations were informed about the research and asked whether they would be willing to participate (when necessary, parental consent was also obtained).

In the Lithuanian and Italian samples, the majority of adolescents lived with both parents (i.e., 66.4 and 78.6%, respectively). However, with regard to the Japanese sample, such information was not collected because schools prohibited us from asking about students’ background, as is the usual custom in Japan (e.g., Ferrer-Wreder et al. 2015; Sugimura et al. 2009).

Measures

Identity

We used the Identity subscale of the EPSI (Rosenthal et al. 1981), which consists of 12 items rated on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 5 (Strongly agree). Six items represent identity synthesis, and six items represent identity confusion. We assessed identity consolidation as an overall balance of identity synthesis and identity confusion by using the bi-factor model. Sample items included “I have got a clear idea of what I want to be” (synthesis) and “I change my opinion of myself a lot” (confusion). The Lithuanian and Italian versions of the EPSI were prepared through the following procedure: The original English version was translated into Lithuanian and Italian by a team of experienced researchers and then back-translated by a native speaker. In each of these steps, any differences in translation were discussed by the research team and disagreements were resolved through consensus. The Japanese version of the EPSI has been validated in previous research (Hatano et al. 2014). Cronbach’s alphas were .82, .71, and .66 for synthesis, and .83, .69, and .63 for confusion, in samples from Lithuania, Italy, and Japan, respectively.

Emotional separation

To assess emotional separation we used the Emotional Separation Scale (ESS; Beyers et al. 2005), which consists of 12 items rated on a 4-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 4 (Strongly agree). Sample items are “My parents and I agree on everything” (reverse item) and “There are some things about me that my parents don’t know”. The original English version was translated into Lithuanian and Japanese by a team of experienced researchers, and then back-translated by a native or bilingual speaker. In each of these steps, any differences in translation were discussed by the research team and disagreements were resolved through consensus. The Italian version of this scale has been validated in previous research (Lo Coco and Pace 2009). Cronbach’s alphas were .82, .81, and .81 in samples from Lithuania, Italy, and Japan, respectively.

Parental trust

To assess parental trust, we used the Parental Trust subscale of the short version of the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment (IPPA; Armsden and Greenberg 1987; Nada-Raja et al. 1992), which consists of 4 items rated on a 4-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 4 (Strongly agree). Sample items are “My parents respect my feelings” and “When I’m angry about something my parents try to be understanding”. The Japanese version of this scale was prepared through the same procedure as that for the ESS. The Lithuanian and Italian versions have been widely used and validated in previous research (e.g., Crocetti et al. 2008; Kaniušonytė et al. 2014; San Martini et al. 2009). Cronbach’s alphas were .64, .67, and .77 in samples from Lithuania, Italy, and Japan, respectively.

Statistical Analysis

To examine the association of emotional separation and parental trust with the identity components among participants in Lithuania, Italy, and Japan, the analyses proceeded in two steps. First, according to cross-national research requirements (e.g., Crocetti et al. 2015), before conducting our main analyses, we tested measurement invariance of emotional separation and parental trust, and also tested an identity measurement model (i.e., a bi-factor model) across the three national groups. We performed consequential multigroup confirmatory factor analyses (CFAs). For the emotional separation and parental trust measurement model, we tested a model with two latent variables: emotional separation and parental trust. As for the identity measurement model, we examined a bi-factor model wherein each identity item is linked separately with its primary subscale (synthesis or confusion) and with the overall identity factor (consolidation) (Fig. 1). The overall factor was hypothesized to extract the common variance among the specific factors; hence, it was not allowed to correlate with either synthesis or confusion, which were also set to be uncorrelated to each other. No residual correlations were allowed. Furthermore, a random parceling approach was used. Following Dimitrov (2010), we used the standard invariance testing procedure. Specifically, we examined configural and metric invariance (Vandenberg and Lance 2000). Configural invariance entails the same number of factors and the pattern of fixed and freely estimated parameters holds across groups. On the other hand, metric invariance requires equivalence of factor loadings indicating that respondents across multiple groups attribute the same meaning to the latent construct of interest. Configural invariance was tested by evaluating the fit of the unconstrained model to the data. Metric invariance was evaluated by comparing constrained (i.e., equal factor loadings set across countries for metric invariance) vs. unconstrained models. To evaluate model fit, the χ2 index should be as small as possible, the comparative fit index (CFI) should exceed .95, and the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) should be less than .05, with values less than .08 representing reasonable fit (Kline 2016). To test whether the fit of the emotional separation and parental trust model and the identity (i.e., bi-factor) model were equivalent across national groups, we relied on differences in CFI and RMSEA. If the differences in model fit indices exceeded the following criteria, the null hypothesis of invariance would be rejected: ΔCFI > .010 and ΔRMSEA > .015 (Kline 2016).
Fig. 1

Erikson Psychosocial Stage Inventory bi-factor model. Note: (1) One parcel of identity synthesis and two parcels of identity confusion consisted of 2 items. (2) The synthesis item 8, “I have a strong sense of what it means to be female/male”, was dropped from the analyses because some of the participating Japanese schools judged it inappropriate with regard to conveying gender bias and was not used with the Japanese students

Second, to explore associations of emotional separation and parental trust with identity components, which was our main goal, we constructed a model (Fig. 2) to include the structural relationships among emotional separation, parental trust, and identity components (i.e., a bi-factor model). Specifically, we performed multigroup analyses on samples from three national groups. Analyses were conducted using Amos 18.0 (Arbuckle 2009).
Fig. 2

The format of the model for the relationships among emotional separation, parental trust, and identity components. Note: (1) All three parcels of emotional separation consisted of 4 items; one parcel of identity synthesis and two parcels of identity confusion consisted of 2 items. (2) The error terms associated with each item were set in the bi-factor model and the terms associated with each item were set to be uncorrelated. (3) The parental trust item 3, “My parents accept me as I am”, was dropped from the analyses since it was omitted from the Italian questionnaire

Results

Establishment of Measurement Invariance

To confirm that the structures of the emotional separation, parental trust, and identity (i.e., bi-factor) models were equivalent across the three countries, we conducted measurement invariance tests. Results indicated that metric invariance could be established for both measurement models (see Table 1). This allowed us to carry out comparisons to determine the associations of emotional separation and parental trust with the identity components (i.e., synthesis, confusion, and consolidation) across the Lithuanian, Italian, and Japanese samples. The overall valence of identity consolidation (i.e., overall identity factor) obtained by the present sample was identity confusion with synthesis in which confusion items positively loaded on the overall factor and synthesis items negatively loaded on it; this was in line with the results of a previous study conducted on adolescents from Japan and the United States (Dimitrova et al. in press).
Table 1

Results of measurement invariance tests

 

Model fit indices

Model comparisons

 

χ 2 (df)

CFI

RMSEA [90% CI]

ΔCFI

ΔRMSEA

Emotional separation and parental trust

 1. Configural invariance

78.85 (24)

.980

.063 [.048–.079]

  

 2. Metric invariance (compared to 1)

111.97 (32)

.971

.066 [.053–.079]

−.009

.003

Identity synthesis, confusion, and consolidation

 1. Configural invariance

230.965 (42)

.942

.050 [.044–.057]

  

 2. Metric invariance (compared to 1)

296.449 (64)

.928

.045 [.040–.050]

−.015

.005

χ2 chi-square, df degrees of freedom, CFI comparative fit index, RMSEA root mean square error of approximation, CI confidence interval, Δ change in the parameter

Preliminary Analyses

As a preliminary analysis, we tested bivariate correlations among the study variables (see Table 2). Results indicated that in all national samples, emotional separation was negatively related to identity synthesis and positively related to identity confusion while parental trust was positively related to identity synthesis and negatively related to identity confusion.
Table 2

Bivariate correlation coefficients of emotional separation, parental trust, and identity for Lithuania/Italy/Japan

Variables

1

2

3

4

1. Emotional separation

1

−.43***/−.61***/−.61***

−.19***/−.35***/−.12*

.23***/.27***/.10*

2. Parental trust

 

1

.30***/.28***/.22***

−.32***/−.23***/−.21***

3. Identity synthesis

  

1

−.50***/−.62***/−.35***

4. Identity confusion

   

1

*p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001

Associations among Emotional Separation, Parental Trust, and Identity Components

The primary aim of this study was to examine how emotional separation and parental trust are associated with the identity components of synthesis, confusion, and consolidation. To accomplish this goal, we constructed the model by using a bi-factor model (Fig. 2). Fit indices suggested that the model fit the data adequately; χ2(192) = 528.921, p < .001, CFI = .951, RMSEA = .031 (90% CI = .028–.035). The association estimates obtained through this analysis are presented in Table 3. Emotional separation was negatively related to identity synthesis in the Italian sample and positively related to identity consolidation in all national groups. Parental trust was positively related to identity synthesis in Lithuanian and Italian samples, negatively related to identity confusion in the Italian sample, and negatively related to identity consolidation in all national groups.
Table 3

Associations among emotional separation, parental trust, and identity components

 

Identity synthesis

Identity confusion

Identity consolidation

 

Lithuania

Italy

Japan

Lithuania

Italy

Japan

Lithuania

Italy

Japan

Emotional separation

−.07

.32***

.00

−.05

.04

−.03

.30***

.37***

.32***

Parental trust

.20***

.26***

.13

−.09

.21***

.12

−.38***

−.29***

−.70***

Note: Significant differences (p < .05) are noted in bold

***p < .001

Furthermore, to test whether any of the associations among emotional separation, parental trust, and identity dimensions were significantly different between national groups, we tested the statistical significance of the difference between association coefficients using Fisher’s r-to-z transformations. Pairwise comparisons of the 18 pairs of associations revealed that 3 of them were significantly different between the Italian and Japanese samples (z ≥ |1.96|; p < .05). They were the association coefficients between emotional separation and identity synthesis (z = 1.96), parental trust and identity synthesis (z = 2.77), and parental trust and identity confusion (z = 2.01).

Discussion

Identity formation occurs within the context of parent–adolescent relationships (Kroger and Marcia 2011). Two key factors of parent–adolescent relationships—emotional separation (e.g., Beyers et al. 2005) and parental trust (Armsden and Greenberg 1987)—have been found to be particularly important in adolescent psychosocial adjustment (McElhaney et al. 2009). However, findings are inconsistent across samples from different nations, with regard to the relationship between emotional separation and identity formation (e.g., Meeus et al. 2005; Pace and Zappulla 2009). In addition, there is a lack of research that examines the relationships among emotional separation, parental trust, and identity consolidation. Therefore, questions arise about whether and how emotional separation and parental trust adolescent identity formation. This study was intended to address these fundamental questions and to clarify the role of emotional separation and parental trust in identity formation, through a more rigorous test of the relationships of these dimensions with three identity components: synthesis, confusion, and consolidation (Rosenthal et al. 1981; Schwartz et al. 2009). Specifically, we examined the relationships between emotional separation, parental trust, and the three identity components by applying a bi-factor model to identity. Moreover, this study was conducted with independent samples from three nations (i.e., Lithuania, Italy, and Japan) to provide more robust evidence of these relationships across different national contexts.

Our findings demonstrated that in all countries under investigation, emotional separation was positively, and parental trust was negatively, associated with identity consolidation (i.e., confusion with synthesis). Additionally, we found significant associations of emotional separation and parental trust with identity synthesis and identity confusion in the Lithuanian and Italian samples, but not in the Japanese sample. More specifically, while emotional separation was negatively linked to identity synthesis in Italian adolescents, parental trust was positively linked to identity synthesis in Lithuanian and Italian adolescents but negatively linked to identity confusion in Italian adolescents. The pattern of associations was especially different between the Italian and Japanese samples. These results are generally in line with our hypotheses. We concluded that emotional separation and parental trust were consistently associated with identity consolidation across the three nations, whereas their relationships with identity synthesis and identity confusion differed. By testing the relationships of emotional separation and parental trust with the three identity components, these results provide clearer evidence to identity literature regarding the role of emotional separation and parental trust in adolescent identity formation. These results also illuminate the similarities and differences in the association between parent–adolescent relationships and identity formation among Lithuanian, Italian, and Japanese samples.

The key and most intriguing finding of this study was the relationship of identity consolidation (i.e., confusion with synthesis) with both emotional separation and parental trust. We demonstrated that this pattern of association was consistent across three national contexts, although previous studies have presented conflicting results on the relationship between emotional separation and identity formation (e.g., Meeus et al. 2005; Pace and Zappulla 2009). This finding suggests the importance of identity consolidation for a consistent and in-depth understanding of parent–child relationships and identity formation in both Western and non-Western countries. This importance of identity consolidation also implies that identity synthesis is not an endpoint of identity development; rather, having a sense of identity along with a feeling that there is some room left (i.e., confusion) for further identity development (Luyckx et al. 2006) may be significant and closely related to adolescents’ relationships with their parents.

Furthermore, our results indicate that the negative impact of emotional separation and the positive impact of parental trust on identity formation may likely emerge and become more evident at the overall level of identity component (i.e., consolidation) rather than at the specific level of identity dimensions (i.e., synthesis and confusion). This pattern of association corresponds to previous findings that revealed stronger and more consistent relationships between identity consolidation and problem behaviors than between identity synthesis or identity confusion and problem behaviors (Hatano et al. 2017; Schwartz et al. 2009). Thus, we extended the knowledge of adolescent development by showing that identity consolidation may be a more effective component than identity synthesis and identity confusion in understanding the relationship between identity formation and its contexts (e.g., parent–adolescent relationships), in addition to its outcomes (e.g., problem behaviors).

This study further advanced existing knowledge on variations in the associations of emotional separation and parental trust with the separate identity dimensions (i.e., synthesis and confusion) across different national contexts. First, the associations between these identity dimensions and emotional separation and parental trust were found to be significant in Italy and Lithuania, but not in Japan. This result may be reflective of the differences in cultural values between Europe (i.e., Lithuania and Italy) and Asia (i.e., Japan). Because Lithuanian and Italian cultures emphasize individualism (Hofstede et al. 2010), it is possible that adolescents in each of these two nations are faced with strong pressure to exhibit personal agency, uniqueness, and accomplishments (Markus and Kitayama 2010). This could encourage both parents and adolescents in Lithuania and Italy to pursue a coherent sense of personal identity or, in other words, to maximize a synthesized and minimize a confused sense of identity. Conversely, Japan adheres to a collectivist culture (Triandis 1995); hence, adolescents are likely less encouraged to exhibit personal autonomy and self-directed processes (Markus and Kitayama 2010). Both parents and adolescents in Japan may recognize that they are less urged to achieve these separate identity dimensions of synthesis and confusion (cf. Hatano and Sugimura 2017) than their counterparts in Lithuania and Italy.

Second, the associations of both emotional separation and parental trust with identity synthesis and identity confusion were the most evident in Italy. This could be explained by the high priority that Italian adolescents give to the family. In fact, family is consistently rated as the most important value by Italian high school students, and even the transition to adulthood occurs within the family context (Crocetti and Meeus 2014; Scabini et al. 2006). Thus, it is possible that emotional separation is more harmful and parental trust is more beneficial for identity formation in Italian adolescents than in Lithuanian and Japanese adolescents.

Overall, our findings suggest that the relationships between emotional separation, parental trust, and identity are consistent across national contexts when focusing on the level of overall identity dimension (i.e., consolidation); on the other hand, these associations are meaningfully different across nations at the specific level of separate identity dimensions (i.e., synthesis and confusion). Although prior studies have described the potential importance of identity consolidation in relation to youth and adolescent psychosocial adjustment (Hatano et al. 2017; Schwartz et al. 2009), no research exists on the association between identity consolidation and different aspects of parent–adolescent relationships. Our findings suggest the importance of identity consolidation as a key index in examining and understanding its association with aspects of parent–adolescent relationships in contemporary industrial societies—regardless of whether they are Western or non-Western societies.

This study is the first attempt to test whether the pattern of associations between the three identity components and their correlates is comparable across various national contexts in Europe and Asia. Because this study is in the early stage of including international perspectives into empirical research, there are several limitations that should be addressed in future studies. First, although this study focused on one of the major factors surrounding identity formation (i.e., parent–adolescent relationships), identity is constructed in multiple and multilayered developmental contexts beyond that of the family (e.g., Syed and McLean 2016). As our findings revealed both similarities and differences with regard the role of emotional separation and parental trust vis-à-vis identity formation across nations, it is essential to further explore how social and cultural factors (e.g., socioeconomic indices and individualism) are actually interwoven within the process of identity formation and produce these similarities and differences. Second, this study was cross-sectional, which did not allow us to reveal the relationships between or the directionality of emotional separation, parental trust, and identity formation over time. Therefore, future investigations should include longitudinal research. Third, because recent studies have reported the prolongation of identity formation beyond adolescence (e.g., Roberts and Côté 2014), it would be useful to include young adults in studies to examine how these relationships unfold over a longer period of development. Furthermore, Cronbach’s alphas for the identity synthesis and identity confusion subscales were relatively low in the Japanese sample. Because of this issue, the results regarding the association of emotional separation and parental trust with identity synthesis and identity confusion should be interpreted cautiously. There also might be room for improvement with regard to some of the EPSI items.

Conclusion

This cross-cultural study provides meaningful evidence regarding the associations between emotional separation, parental trust, and identity. Although the previous studies that addressed this issue were inconsistent, we presented clearer and more consistent findings of the examination of these associations by taking into consideration identity consolidation and involving adolescents from three national contexts (i.e., Lithuania, Italy, and Japan). By applying a bi-factor model to identity, we were able to show that emotional separation was positively, and parental trust was negatively, related to identity consolidation (i.e., the overall valence was identity confusion with synthesis in this study), and this pattern of association was consistent across all three national contexts. Moreover, we revealed that the patterns of associations of emotional separation and parental trust with identity synthesis and identity confusion were different across nations. Our findings highlighted that the role of emotional separation and parental trust vis-à-vis adolescent identity is more evident and consistent at the level of an overall identity dimension (i.e., consolidation) than at the level of separate identity dimensions (i.e., synthesis and confusion). Taken together, the significant contribution of our findings to adolescent development literature is marked by clarifying the importance of identity consolidation—a concept directly derived from Erikson’s (1968) ideas—in the relationship between emotional separation and parental trust across various national contexts both in Europe and Asia.

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors thank Dr. Manabu Tsuzuki, Dr. Reiko Nakama, and Dr. Shinichi Mizokami for their help with data collection and various suggestions for this study.

Authors’ Contributions

K.S. and R.Ž. conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, and drafted the manuscript; E.C. participated in its design and coordination and drafted the manuscript; K.H. participated in its design, performed the statistical analysis, and drafted the manuscript; G.K. participated in the design of the study and helped to draft the manuscript; S.H. performed the statistical analysis and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Funding

K.S. was supported by the JSPS Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C), 15K04070. R.Ž. was supported by the grant from the Lithuanian Research Council [grant number LJB-5/2015].

Data Sharing Declaration

This manuscript’s data will not be deposited. The datasets generated and analyzed during the current study are not publicly available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all participants included in the study.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kazumi Sugimura
    • 1
  • Elisabetta Crocetti
    • 2
  • Kai Hatano
    • 3
  • Goda Kaniušonytė
    • 4
  • Shogo Hihara
    • 1
  • Rita Žukauskienė
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Graduate School of EducationHiroshima UniversityHigashihiroshimaJapan
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyAlma Mater Studiorum University of BolognaBolognaItaly
  3. 3.Development Center for Higher EducationOsaka Prefecture UniversitySakaiJapan
  4. 4.Institute of PsychologyMykolas Romeris UniversityVilniusLithuania

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