Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Deborah P. Welsh

Committee Members

John Lounsbury, Richard A. Saudargas, Sally J. McMillan


This dissertation outlines three distinct, yet interrelated, projects aimed at understanding the role of technology in relation to emerging adulthood developmental tasks: individuation & identity development. The first paper provides a context for understanding the developmental tasks of emerging adulthood, and the role that technology may serve in relation to those developmental tasks. This brief review of the literature on emerging adulthood developmental tasks provides a solid theoretical background and history for the theoretical premises proposed for the respective studies included in this dissertation. The second project is an empirical investigation that seeks to understand how the task of identity development may be related to online self-presentation, indicated by rates of profile picture cycling. The third project is a second empirical investigation that seeks to understand how the developmental task of individuation may be related to cell phone communication with parents. Final comments and integrated thoughts are provided to clarify the parallels between what we already know about emerging adulthood tasks, and how these tasks are being manifested via social media outlets and cell phone usage.


Samantha Lynn Gray earned her B.A. in Psychology from Purdue University in Indianapolis, IN, in 2008. Immediately thereafter, she entered the doctoral program in clinical psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. From 2008-2013, she worked as a graduate student researcher under the supervision of Dr. Deborah Welsh studying adolescent relationships, emerging adulthood, parent attachment, psychological functioning, and later began exploring the ways in which technology may affect young adults lives. Samantha has presented research at several national conferences, and is the lead author on an encyclopedia article titled, ‘Adolescence.’ She also worked as a graduate student therapist and evaluator at the University of Tennessee Psychological Clinic from 2009-2013, as well as Cherokee Health Systems from 2011-2012. Samantha has taught five undergraduate courses at the University of Tennessee – three sections of PSYC 110: Introduction to Psychology, and two sections of PSYC 117: Honors General Psychology. In 2013, Samantha entered the APPIC match and obtained a one year-long, pre-doctoral internship at the Indiana University School of Medicine where she is looking forward to completing the requirements for the conferral of her doctorate degree.

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