AMBIGUITY OF ROLE-MODELS AND VALUES AMONG INDIAN YOUTH* DURGANAND...
AMBIGUITY OF ROLE-MODELS AND VALUES AMONG
INDIAN YOUTH*
DURGANAND SINHA
Using samples of students and older teachers, inter-generational differences were analysed
on three measures, namely, perception and determination of role-models, evaluation of
events with socio-moral connotations, and judgment of certain 'ambiguous' behaviour traits.
Comparisons revealed that the young had more varied and unstable role-models, were
vacillating and undecided when confronted with situations involving moral dilemma, and
evaluated the 'ambiguous' behaviour traits differently. Some socio-psychological factors
underlying this value ambiguity among the youth have been discussed.
Durganand Sinha is Professor of Psychology, University of Allahabad, Allahabad.
Youth is a distinct and important period
Youth is characterised by a biological
in the life cycle of the individual. It is an "coming of age", and it ends the period of
important phase in one's life because in one's childhood and adolescence, and
every culture youth is valued. Sometimes marks the entry into adulthood. Physical
youth has been stereotyped as being rash, maturity at this phase is complete. How-
indiscreet, impulsive and foolish, and the ever, psychologically speaking, this period
expression "gadah pachisi" ("donkey's has often been viewed as one of crisis
twenty-five") is current in some regional which the individual has to face in varying
languages characterizing the tendency of degrees. It is only by resolving this crisis in
youth to resort to unwise and impetuous some fashion that he can develop to "the
behaviour which is expected of an indivi-
fullest extent emotionally and socially into
dual up to the age of twenty-five and an adult. This period of crisis, whether it
which is to be ignored by the understanding be in the life of an individual or that of
elders. But in spite of certain derogatory a whole generation of young people, is
and undesirable features sometimes ascribed often reflected in certain kinds of strains
to it, youth marks in certain respects the and stresses and has been variously de
peak in the physical and mental growth of scribed as generation gap, vocational and
the individual. There are legends and stories social disorientation, alienation, ambiva-
in which some great kings of yore resort-
lence and "identity confusion". The con-
ed to penance and worship to maintain the cept of identity confusion, as defined by
vigour and grandeur of youth eternally, or Erikson (1968), denotes a person's uncer-
to regain it after it had been lost with the tainty about his future role in society as
onset of old age. The period after youth well as a sense of discontinuity between his
may be characterised by greater wisdom and personal past and his future. As experienced
maturity, but there is a widespread belief subjectively, it means a feeling of fragmen-
that a general decline, however imper-
tation, of indecision, and of isolation from
ceptible and gradual it may be, sets in soon social and interpersonal contacts. It is not
after. Therefore, it is not surprising that not the purpose of this paper to elaborate on
only youth is cherished, but there is often the concept of identity confusion or its
a yearning in the later years to return to allied concept of identity crisis. It would
this phase of one's life cycle.
be quite sufficient to say that an intensified
* This article is based on the paper presented in a seminar conducted by Dr. Erik Erikson
and Dr. Sudhir Kakar in Delhi from January 21-28, 1977.

242
DURGANAND SINHA
kind of such a confusion is reflected in a shorter time span, but there is also a break
variety of psycho social disorders such as in the order in which the changes occur.
anxiety, anomie, despair, depersonalization, What could in Europe unfold gradually
meaninglessness, isolation, loneliness, feel-
and proceed as a grand symphony with one
ing of anonymity, pessimism, and the like movement following the other in thematic
which seem to characterize the contempo-
sequence is by destiny syncopated in South
rary youth.
Asia into almost a cacophony." In such a
At certain periods in history, the resolv-
period of rapid change, the problem of
ing of identity confusion on the part of the identity confusion is intensified due to the
individual becomes more difficult. Certain break-down of traditional values and tradi-
cultural and historical factors influence this tional roles and where adult support for
intensity. One such factor which is im-
youth's search for identity is lacking and
portant is the rapidity of change through where the guidelines for accepted behaviour
which a particular society is passing. One get blurred and contradictory. On the
of the features of the modern Indian society plane of individual personality, it is often
is the rapid breakdown of traditional values, reflected in the experience of contradic-
and the transitional character of our social, tions and inner conflicts, and a
political and economic structure. This mode of life which has been characterised
phenomenon of transition has been taken as "compartmentalization" by Dawson
to underlie the general incidence of high (1963). Sinha (1962) while analysing the
anxiety which has been observed among cultural factors in the emergence of anxiety
the Indian student population (Sinha, has also remarked on the dichotomies in-
1962). There have been revolutionary herent in the Indian situation and per-
changes in the entire pattern of life within sonality, and he characterized the same as
the last three decades. Old values have "tolerance of dissonance" (Sinha, 1974).
tumbled and the new ones are still in a Nirad Chaudhuri (1966), the famous writer,
state of flux. The phenomenon has been in his book The Continent of Circe desig-
very aptly described by Leon Guerrero, nates it as "Janus Multifrons", and talks of
once the Filipino Ambassador in London, "terrible dichotomy" of the Hindu perso-
as characterising most of the Asian coun-
nality with a large number of antithetical
tries. According to him. the elements in though connected traits shaping behaviour.
all the movements in Western history — These "opposites almost neutralize one
the break-up of the Roman Empire, the another, and the indecisive tug-of-war
overthrow of the feudal system, the Renais-
stultifies all his actions."
sance, the Reformation, the French and
Man inherits a limited repertory of res-
American revolutions, the disruption of the ponses. Most of the responses are
social system in the industrial revolution, learned, and a majority of them are learned
the class-war of the Russian revolution — from others, i.e. culturally acquired. In this
are all simultaneously bubbling in the respect, among other cultural influences,
Asian revolution. Gunnar Myrdal (1968) the perception of role-models which the
has also remarked about this confusing individual tries to emulate and regard as
rapidity and disorderly sequence of all providing guidelines for his conduct, and
round changes that are taking place in perception of what is right and wrong,
India and other Asian countries: "It is, proper and improper have a vital part to
then, not only a telescoping in the sense play in the psychological growth of the
that the changes are concentrated in a individual. The present paper is concerned

AMBIGUITY OF ROLE-MODELS AND VALUES AMONG INDIAN YOUTH
243
with reporting the results of a few studies moral code like misappropriating public
conducted in the year 1969 constituting fund because the individual was in urgent
parts of a larger project on intergenera-
need of money, burning a shop by the crowd
tional differences (Sinha, 1972), and which because it had not closed itself when a gene
reflect the ambiguities and confusion in the ral strike was declared, having a secret
reactions of Indian youth of today. Directly love-affair with a married woman, travell-
it is concerned with the analysis of choice ing without ticket, and similar other situa-
of hero-image and role-models, and percep-
tions. The incidents were so chosen that
tion and evaluation of certain "ambiguous" they represented some typical common
socio-moral traits as well as of some events place occurrences. The incidents were pre-
and incidents representing transgression of sented one by one to the subject, and he
certain accepted codes of behaviour. The was required to indicate whether he consi-
strategy of the study was to contrast the dered each as 'proper' or 'improper', or he
reactions of the youth against those of was unable to decide about it ("'neutral
persons belonging to the older generation. responses"). Analysis was made of the fre-
The sample studied consisted of 300 uni-
quencies of each of the three types of
versity and college students from the city responses.
of Allahabad and 150 younger teachers
The third study consisted of presentation
below 25, and 150 universty and college of a list of "ambiguous" behaviour traits
teachers who were 40 years or above. The as well as other qualities like honesty,
overall mean age of the older teachers was cheating, etc. which when found in a per-
48.18 years, and that of younger teachers son could be considered as desirable or un-
23.03, and of students a little over 19 and desirable, as the case may be. A long list
16 years respectively for university and containing some desirable, undesirable, and
college students.
"ambiguous" behaviour traits, randomly
The sample was subjected to three tests. mixed, was presented to the subject and he
The first consisted of perception of people was asked to indicate whether each quality
and determination of role-models and hero-
when found in a person, would be consi-
images. The subject was asked to name five dered good or bad, positive or negative,
persons from whose life he may have desirable or undesirable.
gathered inspiration and whom he consi-
The analysis of choice of role-models and
dered to have influenced him in his life heroes revealed interesting age differences.
and behaviour. Later on he was asked to The older generation of teachers displayed
name two of them in order, whom he re-
higher degree of agreement among them-
garded as the greatest persons of all. selves regarding the choice of persons and
Thirdly, he was requested to name quali-
personalities from whom they received
ties possessed by these two persons which inspiration. They belonged both from the
in his opinion made them notable. Analysis past and the present time, and constituted
of responses indicated the role-models ac-
figures from the political as well as reli-
cepted by the subject as well as the quali-
gious world, and some were social re-
ties considered as significant in them.
formers. Among the young, both students
On the second test, namely, the percep-
and teachers, the choice of models was
tion of events, the subject was required to more widely dispersed. They chose more
evaluate a number of situations with socio-
frequently role-models from political world
moral connotations. Each one depicted a of recent times, and did not seem to
transgression of some common social or receive much inspiration from the great

244
DURGANAND SINHA
personalities of the past. Besides, they also many of the "heroes" chosen (for example,
mentioned as their models persons from the film stars, cricket players, etc.) were such
world of entertainment and sports, though that these qualities could hardly be said to
the frequency of such choices was not very reside in them. This emphasizes further
high. It was observed that hero-image and the ambiguity of role-models of the young.
models for the younger generation were
Similar uncertainity and instability was
more varied and unstable. Barring out-
noticed in the analysis of evaluation of
standing personalities like Mahatma incidents representing socio-moral transgres-
Gandhi, Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri, sions. It may be mentioned that compared
they did not seem to have any clear-cut with the older generation, the young dis-
role-models from whom they derived played a more permissive and less
inspiration and after whom they liked to condemnatory stance. This was true for 6
shape their conduct. The young displayed out of 12 events which were evaluated.
relatively greater variety in their choice. However, what was more intriguing was
Apart from the three personalities mention-
that to most of these situations, there was
ed earlier, they referred to a large number a sizable proportion of uncertain "neutral"
of figures from the political world, some responses. This was particularly high
of them being local personalities and quite among the two samples representing the
obscure, and even film stars and sports young. In other words, when confronted
champions. It was also observed that all with a dilemma of socio-moral character,
their models belonged to the contemporary the young generation displayed considerable
world, and there was little general agree-
hesitation in judging them either as proper"
ment among themselves as to their choice. or improper, and preferred to suspend their
Unlike the young, the older sample men-
judgment. In at least half of the incidents
tioned even mythological and legendary presented to them, one-fifth to one-third of
personalities frequently, and confined their the evaluative responses were "neutral".
choice generally to well-known mythologi-
The corresponding figures among the older
cal, historical, or contemporary people generation of the teachers was some 10 to
famous for their contributions in the fields 15 per cent lower. In other words, faced
of science, literature, politics, religion, and with situations involving socio-moral issues,
social reform. Lack of agreement and high the younger generation tended to vacillate
degree of diversity in the choice of models and suspend their judgement while the
reflect uncertainity and instability of role-
older people were more definite about
models for the young. However, it is to be their evaluation, and readily judged them
observed that when the subject was asked either as proper or improper. Vacillation
to indicate the qualities which he thought and indecision characterised the reactions
made those persons great, there was of the young as against quicker and
considerable agreement not only among the decisive judgements of the older generation.
two groups representing the young, but Thus, the youth were not only more
also between the younger and older genera-
permissive but also unsure about their
tions. The most frequently mentioned reactions which reflected comparatively
qualities were patriotism, statesmanship, weaker super-ego development, and failure
humanitarianism, social reform and so on. to reconcile the changing moral codes. The
It may be noted that though these were net result was relative lack of certainty
frequently mentioned by the young as about their opinion and judgment. Or, to
qualities that made their "heroes" great, put it in the words of Nirad Chaudhuri,

AMBIGUITY OF ROLE-MODELS AND VALUES AMONG INDIAN YOUTH
245
they were "t6rn by their internal psycholo-
behaviour traits were indicative of diver-
gical tussles."
gence of values. Further, such differences
On the qualities considered desirable or in perception made it difficult for the young
undesirable in a person it was observed to adopt and accept as their model the
that there was no difference between the members of older generation.
youth and the age on so-called "cardinal
The above findings indicate a number of
virtues" like honesty, duty, non-violence points. There prevails value ambiguity
and so on. However, it was observed that among the youth as a result of which they
there was greater agreement regarding the were not able to have clear-cut evaluative
importance of these among the two groups response to certain socio-moral issues. It
belonging to the same generation than reflects the socio-moral dilemma which the
between the groups representing different young faced and vacillation and uncer-
generations. Further, such a concurrence tainty characterizing their handling of such
was small regarding qualities which were situations.
considered as undesirable in a person.
The reason for this "ambiguity" in the
While the youth (younger teachers and young can only be guessed. One of the
students) agreed among themselves
factors which is likely to be operating is
regarding qualities considered undesirable the relative lack of exposure in the older
(correlation being .88), there was only generation to mass media and the almost
moderate agreement between the young complete immersion of the younger genera-
and the old (correlation being .49 between tion in various mass media like the radio,
older teachers and students, and .48 films, television, the press, and magazines
between older teachers and young teachers). so that the world of arts, sports, entertain-
On another measure, difference between ment and contemporary events are constant-
the young and the old was reflected on the ly brought within their psychological field
perception and evaluation of some leading to a proliferation of role-models
"ambiguous" traits. During pre-testing, available to them. While the choice of the
twelve behaviour traits were found to yield older generation was largely limited to the
"ambiguous" responses, i.e., these traits figures and personalities about whom they
were such that they had almost equal pro-
had heard from their elders in the form of
bability of being judged as either desirable stories and legends or read in the books
or undesirable in a person. On these beha-
which projected more or less unambiguous
viour traits differences were observed roles for them, the young was confronted
between the generations. Evaluation of with a large array of "not so-important"
some of these behaviour traits among the figures made familiar by the mass-media.
young and old was divergent. With regard As a result, the young had available to
to some of them like cunning (chalak), them a wide range of models for making
opportunist (avsarvadi) and the like, the their choice. The proliferation of roles with
young tended to regard them more which they were confronted made it
frequently as "desirable", while the older difficult for them to identify wholesale with
generation viewed them as "undesirable". any set of clearcut roles or personalities
Similar was the case with qualities like which is so important in the formation of
sentimental (bhavuk) and restless (chanchal) one's ego-identity. This is reflected in the
where the differences were in the reverse fact that barring a few exceptions, the
direction. In other words, such evaluative frequencies of choice in selecting a parti-
differences on a few so-called "ambiguous" cular figure as "hero" was relatively low

246
DURGANAND SINHA
in the younger group. Since the "heroes" dered worth emulating. Once they had
for the contemporary generation were shifted to the cities, they were completely
diverse, mostly consisting of "minor" overwhelmed by the pattern of life and new
personalities, it can be asserted that by and norms prevalent on the campuses and they
large there was an absence of what may be were so much dazzled by the newer values
called "normative models" for the youth and way of life that they no longer found
as a group. While the outstanding "heroes" anything worth emulating in their parents.
could provide definite roles, the roles tended Parents in some cases may have been the
to get largely obscured in the person of focus of identification earlier, but at least
"minor heroes".
at this stage they had ceased to play any
The youth very rarely found their significant role in providing models for
identification models among the great conduct and life-goals to the younger
personalities of the past. This is indicative generation.
of the absence of link with the past and
Similar was the case with the teachers
what could be called the traditional values. which is indicative of the psychological
A mature psychological identity pre-
distance between them and the students,
supposes a subjective sense of continuous and the general attitude of hostility towards
existence, and a coherent memory. It is the teachers which has of late developed
anchored in the past and at the same time in quite a few educational institutions.
links itself to the future. This continuity Whatever may be the reason for this re-
did not seem to exist in case of the youth. jection, it is obvious that for the young,
It is often suggested that in the process the parents as well as the teachers did not
of identity formation the individual looks serve as a beacon for the life and conduct.
to some person, usually parents, teachers The diversity and uncertainty of the res-
and elders or someone from his peer group, ponse of the youth indicate that they had
whom he tries to emulate and whose not only rejected the past but also the
qualities he tries to introject into himself. parents and teachers. These had not been
They provide him with guidelines for con-
replaced by any other stable models, so
duct and help him in resolving identity that as a group the young did not possess
confusion. But the sample of youth studied clear-cut role-models which made the reso-
seldom found inspiration from the lives of lution of identity confusion more difficult.
personalities from the past, and also very
It is further observed that the elders who
rarely chose their parents or teachers as could constitute the role-models for the
their role-model. There appeared to be young were themselves often perceived as
complete rejection of parental models by presenting an ambiguous facade. Those
the university and college students under who are today's elders are themselves fac-
study. The reason for it is hard to find. It ing value conflicts and ambiguities of social
is quite likely that for the bulk of the rural situations in an era of rapid change. It is
youth who had 'migrated' from the villages suggested that the elders of today when
to the university or the colleges with new they were themselves young could easily
aspirations and professional goals, the identify and find role-models among the
values and life-patterns represented by the older generation of that time because the-
parents, especially living in rural areas, latter belonged to a more stable society,
had very little to commend. There was and presented a figure which was not torn
hardly anything in their life-style and beha-
by contradictions. But the same is not the
viour which the modern young man consi-
case with the contemporary youth. The

AMBIGUITY OF ROLE-MODELS AND VALUES AMONG INDIAN YOUTH
247
older generation of today who could have front the youth has intensified the problem
provided guidelines of conduct, due to of resolution of identity confusion. It shows
value contradictions and conflicts which itself in a kind of "role refusal" on the
have beset them in a fast changing world, part of the young, and is reflected in un-
have failed to provide in their life and be-
rest on the campuses, development of
haviour stable models free from ambiguity "counter culture", and intergenerational
and contradictions to the youth. The author differences which is trying to assume ten-
has analysed this point at some length in sional character in many spheres of our
an earlier paper, and has regarded it as social life. Absence of ideological commit-
one of the factors generating high anxiety ment which seems to characterize the youth
amongst modern youth (Sinha, 1962). It is on many of the campuses (Altbach, 1968)
felt that the consequence of the role-ambi-
complicates further the problem of identity
guity and ambiguity of values which con-
formation.
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Turmoil and Transition, Bombay: Lalwani Publishing House.
1968
Chaudhuri N. :
The Continent of Circe, Bombay: Jaico Publishing House.
1966
Dawson, J. L. M. :
"Traditional Values and Work Efficiency in a West African
1963
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Erikson, E. H. :
Identity, Youth and Crisis, New York: W. W. Norton.
1968
Myrdal, G.
Asian
:
Drama: An Enquiry into the Poverty of Nations, Vol. I,
London: Penguin Books.
1968
Sinha, D.
"Cultura
:
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Sinha, D.
The
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1972
Sinha, D.
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:
n Personality and Motivation in the Context of Economic
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