Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

The use of identity processes in response to specific age-related physical changes and overall sense of age in older adults

Kathleen J Collins, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study was conducted to explore how the identity processes of assimilation and accommodation work together to enable older adults to adjust to age-related physical and cognitive change. The study introduces of the concept of micro and macro levels of identity processes to Whitbourne's identity model as a means of further understanding the concept of a identity balance, an approach to identity that employs both assimilation and accommodation, and is theorized to be the optimal approach to maintaining well-being and positive self-esteem in later life. A sample of 50 community-dwelling adults between the age of 50 and 93 (M = 72.42) completed a structured interview that included measures of identity and self-esteem. It was hypothesized that participants would use identity assimilation in response to the impact of age on overall sense of self (macro identity), and identity accommodation in response to most salient physical or cognitive changes (micro identity). The results indicate that identity assimilation was used most at the macro level, but was not positively correlated with self-esteem. Identity assimilation was also used most at the micro level; however, it was not clear whether the structured interview accurately assessed assimilation and accommodation at the micro level due to a contradiction in reporting by a substantial percentage of the identity assimilators. The results suggest that a balanced approach to overall identity, as well as engaging in behavior to manage physical or cognitive change, are most effective in maintaining positive self-esteem in later life. The relationship of engaging in behavior to identity at both the micro and macro levels of identity was explored, and a model based on the findings was proposed for understanding how identity at both levels can be employed in order to maintain a high self-esteem and a balanced sense of self.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Collins, Kathleen J, "The use of identity processes in response to specific age-related physical changes and overall sense of age in older adults" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3056212.