Behavior Change Measures Hub – Identity Theory


Identity Theory

Identity Theory (McCall & Simmons, 1978; Stryker, 1980). One’s self-concept is comprised of a hierarchy of role-identities, with the identities being at the top of the hierarchy being the most important and most likely to be acted upon. Each role identity comes with socially constructed expectations of how someone with that identity is supposed to behave, and these socially constructed expectations are incorporated into one’s self-concept when that identity is adopted. Role-identities provide meaning for past behavior and are predictive of future behavior.

(1) Exercise Identity: 9-item self-report scale, responses from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”. Sample items: “I consider myself an exerciser,” “Physical exercise is a central factor my self-concept,” “For me, being an exerciser means more than just exercising.” Pros: . Cons: Specific to exerciser identity, thus not able to use for any other type of identity without modifying the scale.

Source: Anderson, D. F., & Cychosz, C. M. (1994). Development of an exercise identity scale. Perceptual Motor Skills, 78, 747, 751.


  • free to use, brief measure, has been widely used to assess exerciser identity

  • Specific to exerciser identity, thus not able to use for any other type of identity without modifying the scale.

(2) Tennessee Self-Concept Scale II. This scale contains 82 items, containing self-descriptive statements that allow the individual to portray themselves using five response categories: Always False, Mostly False, Partly False Partly True, Mostly True, Always True. This scale contains subscales of six self-concepts (SC): Physical SC, Moral SC, Personal SC, Family SC, Social SC, and Academic/Work SC. An identity score can also be calculated which reflects how participants describe themselfves when they are referring to who they are.



  • Thorough widely-used measure that evaluates six common SCs within the same measure. There is also a child-version that can be used for children.

  • With 82 items, participant burden may be high.
  • Also, this measure is limited to only the six SCs mentioned above and does not generalize to other identities

(3) The Self-Description Questionnaire III. This measure assesses the multidimentsional, hierarchical structure of self-concept, focusing on 11 components of self-concept: Mathematics, Verbal, Academic, Problem Solving, Physical Abilities, Physical Apperance, Same Sex Peers, Opposite Sex Peers, Relations with Parents, Religion/Spitituality, Honesty/Reliability, Emotional Stability, and General Self.

Source: Marsh, H. W., & O’Neill, R. (1984). Self description questionnaire III: The construct validity of multidimensional self-concept ratings by late adolescents. Journal of Educational Measurement, 21, 153-174.


  • Widely used and validated measure that uses both self-report and external-rater reports.
  • Validated in adolescents.

  • Restricted for use in adolescents, and only specific to the 11 components of self-concept listed.
  • Not appropriate for use for other identities.
  • It may be challenging to collect both self-report and observer-reports.


We recommend choosing a measure that pertains to the specific identity that is being studied.