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Developmental Psychology Displayed in "Mean Girls"

Updated on September 2, 2019

Setting & Plot

"Mean Girls" is a teen drama taking place in a "typical" American high school, full of dramatic experiences and interactions. The token lead is Cady Heron, a young girl who grew up being homeschool- while living in the African jungle! Upon returning to mainland American, Cady is enrolled in a public high school where she is left to deal with a whole new world, filled with cliques, drama, and excitement. Cady is befriended by a group of peers from the "Out Krowd," but quickly ditches them after being accepted by "the Plastics." "The Plastics" are a group of overdramatic and rude, yet beautiful and popular girls. Cady is accepted relatively quickly as a part of the group, however, she has a change of heart after realizing how "the Plastics" are really shallow and cruel. Rather than immediately leaving the group, Cady and some of the others decide Cady would make the perfect double agent- able to discover secrets about the group, especially Regina. The diabolical plan did not go as planned and there ends up being quite the relationship drama as Cady falls for Regina’s ex. The movie goes on and more drama ensues, but as Cady is orchestrating a new plan to ruin Regina, she starts to actually become like “the Plastics.” When watching the movie Mean Girls one may notice overwhelming psychological themes displayed within, including social, emotional, cognitive, and especially identity development in late adolescence.

Erikson's Theories

Identity versus Role Confusion a.k.a "who am I?" This is a question most adolescents ask themselves many times throughout their teen and young adult years, the characters of "Mean Girls" are certainly no exception. The most obvious example lies in the life of Cady. At first, Cady is portrayed as an innocent "new girl," but as the story progresses, so does her identity crisis. Cady begins to become one of " the Plastics," dressing and acting like the popular girls, in order to impress her peers before coming to her senses and becoming her true self at the end of the movie. Additionally, one will notice Erikson’s idea of identity achievement, which occurs when a person finally understands who they truly are and that who they are is in agreement with their future plans (Berger, 2016, p. 350). While many of the main characters have not yet reached this state due to being young and likely still in development, the character Mrs. Norbury seems to be a good example as she has committed herself to a career, following her years of an identity crisis.

Marcia's Identity States

Furthermore, many of James Marcia’s identity states are also seen in the movie. One primary example lies within role confusion, which is when people do not seem to know, or care, about their identity (Berger, 2016, p. 352). Damien is a good example of this role confusion, as he is gay yet is not ready to come out. In addition, another example of James Marcia’s identity states is foreclosure, which is seen is many of the characters, as is frequently relatable in high school in general. Foreclosure refers to a person accepting their parents or societies roles and values without question (Berger, 2016, p. 352).

References: Berger, Kathleen Stassen. Invitation to the Life Span. 3rd edition, Worth Publishers, 2016.

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