Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Aaron Metzger

Committee Co-Chair

Amy Gentzler

Committee Member

Amy Gentzler

Committee Member

Elisa Krackow

Committee Member

Laura Wray-Lake


Critical consciousness researchers posit that critical reflection, which refers to a critical awareness of structural inequalities between socially constructed groups and external political efficacy beliefs (i.e., perceptions of government responsiveness) are important precursors to effective political action (Diemer et al., 2016; Watts, Diemer, & Voight, 2011). However, little is known about emerging adults’ views of social inequality and political change regarding specific marginalized groups. There are different forms of social inequality and the extent to which individuals experience these inequities is partially determined by multiple sociodemographic characteristics including race/ethnicity, sex, sexual-orientation, and gender identity (Hurst et al., 2016). Identifying potential heterogeneity in emerging adults’ perceptions of these different group-based inequalities may elucidate sociocognitive factors that undergird different forms of active citizenship. Thus, the current study had three primary goals: 1) test and validate the factor structure of a new multidimensional measure of critical reflection and external political efficacy beliefs and examine the extent to which these beliefs vary across different types of group-based inequalities, 2) investigate how emerging adults’ own identity characteristics (race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation) intersect with their group-specific critical reflection and external political efficacy beliefs, 3) investigate how group-specific critical reflection and external political efficacy beliefs interact to differentially predict specific forms of political action. To address these goals, 872 college students (Mage=20.05, SD=1.20; 74% female) were recruited from two Pacific Coastal universities and one Mid-Atlantic university. Participants were 57% White, 18% Asian, 14% Latinx/Hispanic, and 7% Black/African American. Using self-report questionnaires, emerging adults reported on their perceptions of social inequalities that target four marginalized groups (racial/ethnic minorities, women, LGB, transgender) and their beliefs about government responsiveness toward these different marginalized groups. Additionally, emerging adults reported on their involvement in social movement (activism, political voice) and standard political behaviors (voting, news consumption, political campaigning). Results indicated that both critical reflection and external political efficacy are multidimensional constructs that can be represented as separate and correlated group-specific constructs. The factor structure of measurement models as well as significant latent mean differences both indicated that emerging adults distinguished between race-, gender-, LGB-, and trans-based issues in their critical reflection and external political efficacy beliefs. These group-specific beliefs further varied based on emerging adults’ own identity characteristics such that emerging adults who identified with a marginalized group reported greater levels of group-based critical reflection and lower levels of group-based political efficacy compared to their dominant counterparts. In addition, emerging adults with a greater awareness of trans-based inequalities were more involved in social movement activities, especially if they also perceived the government as highly unresponsive to transgender individuals. For men, but not women, higher trans-based critical reflection was associated positively with sharing political opinions with others. In addition, White and Hispanic emerging adults, but not Asian emerging adults, who were more critically aware of racial inequalities and viewed the government as unresponsive to racial/ethnic minority groups were more likely to vote in political elections. The current study builds on previous research on political development by examining complex intersections between identity and multiple dimensions of critical consciousness in emerging adulthood. Findings demonstrate the importance of disaggregating beliefs about different identity-based forms of oppression to better understand links between critical reflection, external political efficacy, and political involvement. This research offers insight specific sociopolitical beliefs that may motivate political involvement during the transition to adulthood.

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