Exploring Exploration: Identity Exploration in Real-Time Interactions among Peers

Kazumi Sugimura*, Jan Ole H. Gmelin, Mandy A.E. van der Gaag, E. Saskia Kunnen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
124 Downloads (Pure)


In this short-term longitudinal study, we examine specific examples of identity exploration in real-time interactions among peers. The participants included 12 first-year students majoring in literature, social sciences, and humanities at a national university in Japan (M age = 18.2; SD = 0.39; 83.3% female). They were divided into four triads that participated in weekly 20-minute discussions for nine successive weeks around three identity domains: learning, romantic relationships, and career. Transcripts were analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Seven characteristics of exploration were identified in real-time interactions: support, open disclosure, meta-exploration, investigating, creating an idea, conflict, and demotivating. In addition, these characteristics generated three major overarching patterns that advanced exploration: creating a safe environment for exploration, clarification and elaboration of the idea embedded in support essential for promoting exploration, and a combination of finding a keyword and repeating it on the border between exploration and discovering an aspect of identity. Overall, our results reveal that exploration in real-time interactions among peers did not involve a fixed sequence of characteristics; rather, it was vitalized by mutual affirmation, going back and forth among different characteristics of exploration while taking small steps.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-34
Number of pages18
Issue number1
Early online date15-Jul-2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • grounded theory approach
  • Identity development
  • peers
  • real-time interactions
  • young adulthood

Cite this