A longitudinal study of adolescent ego development and parental representation

Lisa Bitondo-Federico, Pace University


Adolescence is a time during which progressive and regressive shifts result in revisions and transformations of many aspects of psychic structure. The present study examined the relationship between between two psychoanalytic developmental concepts, ego development and parental representation and shifts in these mental structures over time. The Washington University Sentence Completion test, also known as the Loevinger (SCT) (Loevinger, 1970), was used to assess level of ego development and the Inventory of Parental Representation (IPR) (Hart, 1993) was used to assess seven aspects of maternal and paternal representation. While most studies have investigated adolescent adjustment in relation to family life, this investigator hoped to capture more internal phenomena--the growth of the ego and its relationship to internal working models of ones parents. Much literature points to the relationship between positive bonds to parents and adjustment in adolescence while a wide body of literature points to shifts away from such positive or idealized relationships to those which are harsh and critical. This study looked more in depth at parental representations. Longitudinal changes, that is regression, progression, and maintenance of ego level were examined in the context of the effects on maternal and paternal representation. This study examined parental representational patterns particular to different levels of ego development as well as differences in representations between mothers and fathers. Parental differences were also explored and elaborated. Classical and developmental literature were illustrated that provided a theoretical framework of object relations and ego functioning. Freud's (1923, 1924, 1925) emphasis on the importance of removing parental authority in adolescent psychosexual development has been underlined by Loewald (1980) who elaborated the primal importance of the relinquishment and "destruction" of the investment in early incestuous objects for new non-incestuous love objects in adolescence. Patterns of object removal may be expected to differ by sex--whereby females are required to give up the oedipal father; males the oedipal mother. However, prolonged preoedipal attachment to the mother is also problematic to both sexes. These are the kinds of complexities that were explored and related to development in adolescence. Subjects were 147 adolescents who completed the SCT and IPA over a period of two years. Analyses of variance were used to investigate their developmental and representational changes as well as the interaction between them. Results comparing subjects who, over two measurement times, one year apart, regressed, progressed or remained stable in ego stage yielded significant findings for four out of five categories of comparison. Progression out of Preconformity seemed to enable adolescents to make better use of their parental objects, to be less negative and to be more attuned to parental needs for protection in comparison to those who were stable Preconformists. In examining Conformists who regressed versus stable Conformists, it was shown that regression is associated with less a perception of both maternal and paternal strength. Conformists who were able to progress became increasingly focused on maternal intrusiveness as compared to stable Conformists. In addition, Postconformists who regressed became increasingly concerned with maternal reparation needs compared to those who maintained the Postconformist position. Hypotheses examining parental differences also yielded significance. Mothers were generally seen as being better able to function as self objects, being in need of greater protection and more facilitating of individuation than were fathers. However, mothers were also perceived to have more negative qualities than fathers.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Bitondo-Federico, Lisa, "A longitudinal study of adolescent ego development and parental representation" (1995). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI9521180.



Remote User: Click Here to Login (must have Pace University remote login ID and password. Once logged in, click on the View More link above)