Macquarie University
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Moments of insight: sudden change in ego development

posted on 2022-03-28, 13:30 authored by Margo Orum
Moments of insight - dramatic shifts in perspective in how a person sees him or herself or the world - may provide us with glimpses of how accelerated change might happen in Loevinger's (1976) stages of ego development. Identifying moments of insight as potentially being structural phenomena, and the marrying of them into ego development theory is original to this thesis. -- Ego development proceeds in successive stages that Loevinger described as "self-paradigms", somewhat like Kuhn's (1962) view of paradigms. If this metaphor holds, then at least sometimes, people would be expected to experience sudden, revolutionary paradigm-style changes in their stage of ego development. However only one substantial theory exists as to how stage-changes happen, and that is a theory of gradual change (Kegan, 1979), which is likely the most common form of change. A theory of sudden, revolutionary, paradigm-style change, then, would seem to address a theoretical gap in the concept of how ego development proceeds. This thesis seeks to address that gap. -- A total of 80 participants were tested in regard to their ego development level and a range of secondary measures, and invited to tell stories of their moments of insight: 15 through the medium of interviews (3 of whom became "case studies" and a fourth, a "counter example"), while 65 wrote their stories in questionnaires. -- Analysis was conducted through theoretical argument, through qualitative analysis backed by evidence from story data, and by quantitative analysis of the common themes apparent in the moment of insight stories. Criteria were developed from the data for identifying prototypical examples of moment of insight stories, and criteria for judging ego level change in transcripts were Loevinger's (1976) empirically derived stage descriptions. -- It was shown that these prototypical experiences were those most readily linked with, and potentially indicative of the connection between moments of insight and ego level advancement. The counter example case study also powerfully revealed the conflict felt, even at a high ego level, when there is no "crystallisation of integration" afforded by a moment of insight experience. -- The evidence suggests that moments of insight may indeed be times of sudden ego development change.


Alternative Title

Sudden change in ego development

Table of Contents

Overview of introductory chapters -- Loevinger's conception of ego development -- How might ego stage change happen? -- Theories of sudden change -- Summary of introductory theory -- Aims of the study -- Method -- Preliminary results -- Stages 1-2: analysis of themes in stories of moments of insight -- Stage 3: analysis of story themes by ego level -- Stage 4: examining stories for evidence of ego level change -- Looking for signs of ego level change in case studies -- Case study 1: Sarah -- Case study 2: Louise -- Case study 3: Kasandra -- Case study counter example: Philip -- Revisiting three theoretical tenets of ego development -- Discussion.


Bibliography: p. 478-485

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Division of Linguistics & Psychology, Department of Psychology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Doris McIlwain


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Margo Orum 2004.




xiii, 485 p

Former Identifiers

mq:4132 1291509