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Who am I? Classification and assessment of the self in adolescents and in relation to depression symptoms

Hards, E. (2019) Who am I? Classification and assessment of the self in adolescents and in relation to depression symptoms. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00088024


Adolescence is an important developmental period for the self. It is also a time when young people are particularly vulnerable to depression. Despite this, researchers have neglected to examine how young people spontaneously describe their self and how the self is disrupted in adolescent depression. The aim of the four papers in this thesis is to describe the content of the self in young people and examine associations between the self and depression. Adolescents (n = 822) were recruited from three UK secondary schools, one in Northamptonshire and two in Wiltshire. They completed a measure of self-concept, The Twenty Statements Test (Kuhn & McPartland, 1954) and depression symptoms, the Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ; Costello & Angold, 1988). A sub-sample (n = 584) completed a measure of the possible self, a variant of the ‘I Will Be’ Task (Rathbone, Salgado, Akan, Havelka & Bernsten, 2016). Data from the TST were combined and one large dataset is used in all papers included in this thesis. MFQ data were also combined and is presented in Papers 3 and 4 only. Data from the ‘I Will Be’ Task is described in Paper 4 only. Paper 1 describes data of adolescent generated self-images. They are also presented in a freely available database. The majority of self-images used by adolescents were positive ‘Traits’. These data were compared to adult self-images and demonstrated that adults most often used ‘Social roles’ to describe the self. Paper 2 presents the development of an adolescent-specific classification scheme to categorise self-images into ‘aspects of the self’. Young people most often described themselves in relation to their personal attributes, relationships with family members and their peer group. This classification scheme was used in Paper 3. In the application of this classification scheme in Paper 3, the valence of the self rather its complexity was associated with more severe symptoms of depression. This was consistent with the cognitive theory of depression (Beck, 1967). Adolescents with a more positive self had less severe symptoms of depression. In Paper 4, the possible self and depression symptoms were examined. The valence of possible selves was associated with depression symptoms suggesting that young people with more severe symptoms of depression had a more negative possible self. Together, these results of the four papers suggest that an adolescent ‘self’ is different from an adult ‘self’ and presents an adolescent-specific classification scheme devised to use for this population. These findings also provide partial support for the cognitive theory of depression and suggest that improving self-evaluation in the treatment of depression in young people may be helpful.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Reynolds, S. and Ellis, J.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences
ID Code:88024
Additional Information:Redacted version. Parts removed for copyright reasons are: the published article filed at the end of the thesis. See Related URLs for links to article.


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