The evolving self: a case study utilizing music lyrics to study ego identity

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University of Alabama Libraries

Musicians have written about developmental transitions and the associated struggles for as long as language has been acquired and they have had the means by which to document their lyrics. Modern lyricists have ached about childhood and yearned for home as they enter young adulthood, while others have been preoccupied with romantic interests gained and lost during adolescence and beyond. Some musicians have even delved into questioning social issues, theological paradigms, decisions made by governments, and moral dilemmas in lyrics. Regardless of the developmental crisis being discussed, lyrics have been a medium in which musicians have publicly wrestled with their existential existence. Unfortunately, there is lack of representation in analyzing musical lyrics and other forms of pop culture for personality development in psychological research. This study illustrates a procedure for coding manifestations of three psychosocial stages in music lyrics from an artist’s first album to the most recent album. More specifically, identity, intimacy, and generativity themes were analyzed in John Mayer’s lyrics written during his adolescence, young adulthood, and emerging middle adulthood. Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stage theory is utilized to explain Mayer’s personality at the time each album was released and the development of personality over time. Psychosocial patterns were found at the macro (i.e. stage sequencing) and micro (i.e. MAMA cycles) levels in Mayer’s lyrics. Moreover, the findings are consistent with seminal and modern Eriksonian research, whereas a novel intimacy sequencing pattern was discovered.

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Developmental psychology