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

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posted on 2023-05-27, 14:20 authored by Woolley, CL
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 disability. 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.


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

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