The role of ego development and depression in the expression of internalizing and externalizing symptoms

Sandra Gandolfo Carlisle, Pace University


This study explores the relationship between depression, symptom expression and ego development in adolescents. Subjects were taken from an archival data base of a five year longitudinal study investigating various aspects of adolescent development. The sample consisted of 374 high school students who volunteered to participate in the study. Measures administered included Loevinger's Washington Sentence Completion Test, Achenbach's Youth Self Report Profile and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale for Children. Gender was included in the analysis, as previous research has indicated gender differences in adolescence of both measures of ego development and diagnostic symptoms. The following hypotheses were stated: (1) Subjects at the preconformist stage of ego development will score significantly higher on a measure of externalizing symptoms than subjects at more advanced ego stages; (2) Internalizing symptoms are expected to highest at the self-aware stage of ego development when compared to the remaining three ego stages since this is theoretically expected to be a stage of transition and adjustment; and (3) As depression increases, the difference between reported externalizing symptoms between preconformists and the other three ego stages will increase as well. Preconformist subjects reported statistically significant greater externalizing symptoms than conformist, self-aware, and post-conformist subjects, supporting hypothesis one. Hypothesis two and three were not supported. Although not hypothesized there was a statistically significant sex by depression interaction effect, reflecting that the relationship between depression and externalizing symptoms is stronger for males than females. The findings of the present study indicate relevant information to the field of school psychology with regard to differences in symptom expression by gender and ego development. Frequency distributions indicate differences in modal ego stage obtained by subjects based on gender. Additionally the significant gender by depression interaction effect for externalizing symptoms indicates that male subjects may be at higher risk for developing co-morbid symptomatology with the presence of depressive symptoms. Treatment models, which take into consideration an understanding of both gender differences and developmental issues with regard to ego, may be beneficial in developing ego strength, more effective coping patterns and preventive measures.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Gandolfo Carlisle, Sandra, "The role of ego development and depression in the expression of internalizing and externalizing symptoms" (2004). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3126084.



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