Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

Peter F. Merenda


It is the purpose of this research to investigate the relationship of ethnicity and self-concept. Relationship here means that self-concept varies with ethnicity even when other variables, such as social class, age, etc. are similar.

In the literature review, the argument is developed that perceptions of self are in part formulated from the perception of oneself as being ethnic or having a particular ethnic heritage. These ethnic perceptions include belief systems, patterns of emotions, expectations, perceptions of the environment, sense of reality, interpretive schemes for interacting in the world, etc. In the development of self-perception or self-concept, these perceptions that are ethnic in origin are incorporated into the self-concept and no longer are ethnic perception per se, but become part of the individuals perception of himself or herself. In that way, ethnicity becomes a psychological dimension, past on from generation to generation through the psychological constructs which are responsible for the development of self-concept.

The hypotheses presented are 1) that persons of the same ethnic heritage have similar self-concepts; 2) that persons of the same ethnic heritage have similar ideal self-concepts; 3) that persons of the same ethnic heritage will perceive their parents of the same sex as having similar self-concepts; and, 4) that persons of the same ethnic heritage from a homogeneous family will have self-concepts which are more similar than persons from families which are ethnically homogeneous.

The subjects for this study were 117 undergraduate college students of Italian-American descent. The majority of the subjects were of the third and fourth generation. A comparative sample of 117 undergraduate college students was also obtained. This comparative sample was similar in every way (i.e. age, class, generation, etc.) to the Italian-American sample except that the comparative sample contained no members with any Italian-American ancestry. The subjects were administered the Activity Vector Analysis (AVA), an adjective checklist type of assessment instrument. The AVA is a widely used, well established technique for the assessment of self-concept. The subjects were asked to fill out three AVA checklist forms resulting in self-concept profiles being generated for the subjects 1) self-concept, 2) ideal self-concept and 3) perceptions of same-sex parent.

The results indicated that the Italian-American subjects yielded two groups or clusters of profiles that were statistically significantly different from the normative sample used by AVA measure. Results indicated one of those clusters to be significantly different also from the comparative sample of college students. Differences of statistical significance were not found for profiles generated for the ideal self-concept, for persons from homogeneous vs. heterogeneous family background or for profiles of perceptions of parents.

Results indicate that for third and fourth generation college students of Italian-American descent that ethnic perceptions are incorporated into self-perception and provide a powerful framework through which to interpret the world and one's self. These fin dings indicate ethnicity to be psychological dimension which becomes stable by becoming incorporated into the self-concept. This refutes the traditional view that ethnicity is a socio-cultural phenomenon that will be extinguished after two or three generations.

The implication for psychology is that ethnicity must be considered by both clinical psychologists and research psychologists. Research psychologists must investigate ethnicity as part of any research on the development of self-concept and self-perceptions. Clinical psychologists must acknowledge the variable of ethnicity in the development of self-concept and attempts to change self-concept or self-perceptions.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.