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Body experience and identity development in young adults with a physical disability


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Woolley, CL 2007 , 'Body experience and identity development in young adults with a physical disability', Coursework Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Literature review abstract
Living with a physical disability can have effects on a person beyond the physical
restrictions that they face as a result of an impaired body. One area that has not been
previously explored is the experience of young adults who have a disability in
relation to the development of their identity, according to the model identified by
Marcia (1966). Marcia proposes that adolescents and young adults will fall into one
of four identity statuses, characterised by the presence or absence of exploration and
commitment. Marcia's research has inspired hundreds of empirical studies and some
vigorous debate. There is a growing body of literature that suggests that the
experience of chronic illness may either enhance or impede the development of a
person's identity, however it remains to be seen whether there is a similar effect for
people with a disability. Given that the fundamental aspect of a physical disability is
the fact that one's body is impaired, it is therefore logical to also consider the
multidimensional aspects of how a person with a disability experience's their body.
Most research exploring body experience has explored appearance and aesthetic
related concerns. This includes the idea of appearance schemas that organise and
guide how people process information about their appearance. Hargreaves and
Tiggeman (2002) state that appearance schemas vary in the degree of strength,
elaboration and accessibility for each individual. It may therefore be that having a
disability alters a person's appearance schemas. Furthermore, appearance may not be
the sole facet of body experience that is meaningful for people with a disability
(Potgieter & Khan, 2005; Taleporos & McCabe, 2005; Yuen & Hansen, 2002),
therefore this raises the possibility that research into schemas has neglected other
diverse areas of body experience. Considering that issues to do with the body are an
important aspect of adolescent development, it may be that a person's body
experience has an impact on identity development, particularly for people with a

Empirical study abstract
The aim of this study was to investigate whether the identity status and body
experience of adolescents and young adults differed according to their disability
status. Seventy-two participants aged between 18 and 30 were recruited, meeting the
criteria for one of three groups: having a physical disability that has been present
since birth (n= 18); having a physical disability that was acquired after the age of ten
(n=18); or having no physical disability or chronic health condition (n=36). The three
groups were of equivalent age and gender distribution, and the two disability groups
did not demonstrate significant differences in their level of bodily impairment,
methods of mobility or restriction to activities of daily living. All participants
completed self-report questionnaires that yielded scores on Marcia's (1966) four
identity statuses and multidimensional aspects of body experience. The first
prediction, that the three participant groups would demonstrate different patterns of
scores for the four identity statuses of Achievement, Moratorium, Foreclosure and
Diffusion was not supported. The only consistent difference in identity was that the
acquired disability group scored significantly higher on the moratorium status than
the control group, suggesting that people who have acquired a disability are more
likely than people without a disability to be exploring their identity but are yet to
make firm commitments to identity defining directions. There is a lack of previous
research investigating identity for people with a physical disability, however the
results of this study suggest that the impact of disability on identity can not be
explained by a simple enhancement or impediment model. Regarding the second area
of research, there was some support for the suggestion that there would be
fundamental differences in the body experience of the three groups. The groups did
not differ in how important they felt that the multidimensional aspects of body experience were to them, and also how oriented they were to aspects of body
experience. However, young adults with an acquired disability were less satisfied
with, and evaluated more poorly~ the diverse aspects of body experience as compared
to people of a similar age who have lived with a physical disability all their life, and
people who did not have any disability. Additionally, the developmental disability
group evaluated their fitness significantly more poorly, had significantly less trust in
their body, and were significantly less satisfied with their level of functioning and
trust, than the control group. Finally, it was demonstrated that the relationships
between body experience and identity are stronger, more consistent and more
complex for young adults with a physical disability when compared to people
without a disability. These findings suggest that the concept of body experience
schemas, which has previously been almost solely investigated in terms of
appearance, may be expanded to include concepts such as functioning, trust and
bodily connection for people who have a disability. Further, these body experience
schemas may be related to identity in different ways for people who have a physical
disability and those without a disability.

Item Type: Thesis - Coursework Master
Authors/Creators:Woolley, CL
Keywords: Self-perception in adolescence, People with disabilities, Body image in adolescence, Identity (Psychology) in adolescence
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2007 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (MPsych(Clin))--University of Tasmania, 2007. Includes bibliographical references

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