Rosenberg's Category Analysis

Topics: Child, Identity, Participation Pages: 12 (2709 words) Published: August 4, 2012
Title: An analysis of how children’s identity develops over time: using Rosenberg’s study of self-descriptions (1979).


This report is an analysis of two semi structured interviews investigating the ways individual children give self- descriptions, and how these change with age. An 8 year old girl and a 16 year old boy were interviewed separately in a familiar environment. They first wrote down their chosen self-descriptions which were then discussed with the interviewer. These were followed by a series of questions relating to self-evaluation, self and others, ideal self and the locus of self-knowledge. The results were coded using the same methodology the researcher Rosenberg used to analyse children’s self-descriptions in 1979. This report also found a developmental sequence in the way children describe themselves; younger children describe themselves using physical characteristics whereas older children mainly rely on psychological characteristics.


Psychologists as far back as William James have long been fascinated with the emergence of a sense of identity. The first step a child takes on the road to self-understanding is establishing that he or she exists (ref. from 2009). James labelled this the ‘self as subject’ or existential self (Lewis, 1990). As the child grows and interacts with its environment, his or her daily interaction with others teaches it more about the ‘self as object’ or categorical self (Dunn, 1988). This is when a basic level of self-awareness is achieved, the child places himself and is placed by others into categories that define who they are (ref. from 2009). Harter (1983) outlined a developmental sequence in which children’s self-descriptions change as they get older, where they begin to see themselves more objectively - as if described by others (ref. from 2009). She noted that as children got older they moved from qualities of character to interpersonal traits; then finally on to reflective descriptions of their emotions and attitudes. Bannister and Agnew (1977) also noted this same psychological progression, from physical descriptors of self in the younger to more psychological characteristics in the older children (ref. from 2012). The analysis of the interviews here will also illustrate this same developmental sequence in the way that children describe themselves.

In 1979 Rosenberg analysed the responses of 8-18 year olds about aspects of the self. He aimed to first sort the children’s answers into meaningful categories, and second to identify patterns of self-descriptions which would indicate a developmental progression. This report applies Rosenberg’s categories and themes to the interview data and then discusses the results. The research question is therefore to investigate the ways individual children give self-descriptions and how the characteristics of these change with age.

Rosenberg identified the four broad categories of self-description used here. The first, physical descriptors, were used mainly by the youngest participants. Older children used more character traits to describe themselves. There was also more reference to relationships as age increased. Finally, the oldest children used inner qualities to define the self.

Rosenberg also found a developmental shift in the locus of self-knowledge from outside of the self in the young participants to within the self in the oldest participants. This is borne out in this report only to a certain extent.

What makes this report interesting is that it illustrates where and why Rosenberg’s methodology is useful in many respects; but that it also makes suggestions how and where to improve upon it and make it even more effective and analytical going forward.



The data for this study came from two interviews conducted by the team. The interviews were semi-structured. Both took place during the school day. The younger children were interviewed in their PE hall. The...
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