A longitudinal investigation into progressive and regressive shifts in ego development in male and female adolescents

Eileen T. Rappaport Klein, Pace University


The present study explored adolescent ego development by looking at changes in ego level longitudinally. Regressive and progressive ego shifts were examined by comparing differences in variability of item scores in order to determine if regressive shifts would be related to future ego growth. The sample consisted of 217 adolescents in the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades who attended a public high school in Westchester County, New York. The students were part of a larger longitudinal investigation of adolescent development conducted by Pace University. Level of ego development was measured by the Washington University Sentence Completion Test (WUSCT) (Loevinger, Redmore & Wessler, 1970). Students in the sample included those who had taken the WUSCT for at least 3 years from 1990 through 1993. To test whether ego regression was adaptive, 2 hypotheses were formulated. The first hypothesis predicted greater variability of item scores at the second time of testing for those students who had regressed to below the Conformist level of ego development than for those who had scored at a constant level. Results of analyses confirmed this hypothesis. The second hypothesis predicted that for those students who had scored below the Conformist level at the second testing time, greater variability of item scores would predict future progressive ego growth at testing time 3. The second hypothesis was supported for those students who had progressed to the Self-Aware stage (at least to the Transitional level between Conformist and Conscientious) in terms of one of the three measures of dispersal used--the standard deviation. However, there was no support found when comparing the group of students who at testing time 3 had progressed beyond the Transitional level to the Conscientious stages of ego development. This can be attributed to the fact that the majority of individuals who will reach this level of ego development will not do so until the ages of at least 20 to 22. The findings were discussed in terms of contemporary psychoanalytic theory concerning the nature and meaning of ego regression in adolescence. Practical implications for being able to differentiate adolescents who are regressing adaptively from those whose ego regression is pathogenic were discussed.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Developmental psychology|Mental health

Recommended Citation

Klein, Eileen T. Rappaport, "A longitudinal investigation into progressive and regressive shifts in ego development in male and female adolescents" (1994). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI9514144.



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