Social identity and self categorization
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According to social identity theory and self categorization theory, individuals can develop two principal identities: a personal self, which encompasses unique, idiosyncratic information about themselves, and a collective self, which encompasses information about the groups to which they belong (Tajfel, 1972). In particular, this collective self, or social identity, entails information such as the extent to which individuals feel committed or attached to a specific group as well as the status and characteristics of this group relative to other social categories (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). A footballer, for example, might perceive himself as committed to his club as well as regard his club as more professional and moral than rival teams and other sports. In addition to the personal and social identities, individuals can also conceptualize themselves as a constituent of all humanity, referred to as human identity.
Functions of social identities
The social identities of individuals are not static but evolve progressively over time. In particular, individuals implicitly construct a multitude of social categories. For each of these social categories, such as women, footballer, or conservative, as well as many classes that cannot be designated with simple labels, individuals identify common beliefs, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors, referred to as prototypes. Specifically, they construct these social categories and characterize the prototypes to differentiate their own group from other collectives (Reid & Hogg, 2005). Once they can delineate their group unequivocally, individuals know which prototypes or norms to follow, curbing uncertainty and alleviating anxiety (Hogg & Mullin, 1999).
Consistent with this premise, Mullin and Hogg (1999) revealed that individuals are more inclined to align with the norms of their group when they experience a sense of uncertainty (see also McGregor, Zanna, Holmes, & Spencer, 2001). Likewise, Kugihara (2001) showed that individuals tend to mimic the level of aggression that colleagues show during a fire drill, especially when the exits were crowded, highlighting that norms are followed when anxiety rises (for more information, see Subjective uncertainty reduction theory).
These categories are constructed not only to differentiate collectives but to boost the attitudes of individuals towards themselves--a motivation that is referred to as self enhancement (Abrams & Hogg, 1988, 2001; see also Greenberg, Solomon, & Pyszczynski, 1997). Individuals ascribe relatively desirable qualities to their own group, such as morality, efficacy, and status, but impute undesirable characteristics to other groups (Long & Spears, 1997).
In other words, social identities are primarily formed to foster a sense of certainty and boost self esteem (see also McGregor, Reeshma, & So-Jin, 2008).
According to Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, and Wetherell (1987), when the salience one identity increases, the salience of other identities will tend to subside. If individuals become more cognisant of their unique goals or qualities, which amplifies their personal identity, they become less aware of the norms and standards of their social collectives. This proposition is called the principle of functional antagonism.
Several findings, however, challenge the generality of this principle (e.g., Abrams, 1994; Pickett, Silver, & Brewer, 2002; Simon, 2004; Turner, Reynolds, Haslam, & Veenstra, 2006). Swann, Gamez, Seyle, Morales, and Huici (2009) showed that some individuals demonstrate a fused identity, in which they feel their personal and social identities overlap, almost entirely. When these individuals receive feedback about themselves that diverges from their expectations--a manipulation that presumably amplifies their personal identity--they actually become more willing to die or kill to preserve their collective. Hence, at least in a subset of individuals, when the personal identity is activated, the social identity is amplified rather than inhibited (see fused identities).
Eidelman and Silvia (2010) also presented arguments, and uncovered findings, that challenge the concept of functional antagonism. Specifically, according to Eidelman and Silvia (2010), in some instances, individuals have internalized some of their social identities That is, the norms and customs of one or more of their groups might become crucial to the personal identity of individuals. In these instances, when the personal identity of individuals is salient, the norms and customs of their social identity might become more prominent as well. Thus, at least sometimes, cues that activate the personal identity of individuals might activate their social identity as well.
Eidelman and Silvia (2010) uncovered results that align with these propositions. Specifically, in this study, conducted in America, some participants sat in front of a mirror. This procedure that has been shown to prime the personal identity of individuals. Next, participants evaluated themselves on a series of traits. Furthermore, the extent to which they identify with their nation, the United States, was assessed.
Compared to other participants, the individuals who maintain they identify closely with their nation were more likely to perceive themselves as aggressive and materialistic--negative traits that epitomize America--after they observed themselves in the mirror. Thus, the mirror, intended to activate the personal identity, also primed traits associated with their national identity.
According to self categorization theory, as formulated by Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, and Wetherell (1987), when individuals identify closely with a social collective, they experience a process called depersonalization. Specifically, they perceive all members of the group as interchangeable on some level. That is, they assume every in the group, including themselves, shares the same underlying values or inclinations. Accordingly, these individuals tend to comply with group norms.
Some authors have challenged the legitimacy or generality of this assumption (e.g., Deaux, 1993; Simon, 2004). Again, the study conducted by Swann, Gamez, Seyle, Morales, and Huici (2009) highlight a boundary to this assumption. Again, individuals who demonstrate a fused identity, in which they feel their personal and social identities overlapped, did not demonstrate this pattern. That is, these individuals did not merely comply with the norms of their social collective. In particular, these individuals were willing to engage in radical behavior--behavior that diverges from the norms of their group--to protect or to reinforce this collective, especially when their identity was threatened.
Indeed, optimal distinctiveness theory can accommodate these findings (see Hornsey & Jetten, 2004; Optimal distinctiveness theory). According to this theory, individuals seek collectives in which they satisfy their need to belong and their need to feel unique simultaneously. To fulfill both of these conflicting needs, they sometimes conceptualize themselves as someone who fulfills the group norms to a greater extent than do other members, called the PIP effect. Hence, if individuals engage in radical behaviors to protect their collective, they can feel both connected and unique concurrently.
Consequences of social identities
When individuals are cognizant of their social identity--aware of the groups to which they belong--their perceptions, inclinations, and behavior can change dramatically. First, they become more inclined to embrace the beliefs and demonstrate the values that epitomize their group (Hogg & Terry, 2001; Tajfel, 1972). Second, they become more likely to perceive individuals who belong to other groups as demonstrating qualities that typify members of this collective. If they perceive a collective as thrifty, for example, they become inclined to interpret the behavior of a specific member as miserly rather than generous (e.g., Gagnon & Bourhis, 1996).
Many factors affect the likelihood that individuals adopt a social, rather than personal, identity. Specifically, individuals are more cognizant of their social identity when similarities between members of their group are underscored or when competition between their group and another collective are emphasized. In work settings, for example, uniforms or bonuses that depend on team performance elicit a social identity. To illustrate, individuals were inclined to work productively, even when their personal productivity was not monitored, when bonuses depended on team performance, implying that such bonuses fostered a social identity with the workgroup (Worchel, 1998).
Types of social identities
These effects, however, depends on the types of social identities that individuals form. Some social identities relate to enduring social categories, such as ethnicities, religions, or nationalities. Other social identities relate to dynamic groups, such as sports teams or clubs, in which membership is not always enduring. These malleable identities are assumed to be less inclined to confer a sense of certainty (see McGregor, Reeshma, & So-Jin, 2008).
Lickel, Hamilton, and Sherman (2001; see also Lickel et al., 2000) also differentiated several types of groups. Their four types included intimacy groups, like family and friends, task groups, like project teams, social identities, like races, ethnicities, or genders, and loose associations, like people with a similar interest.
A variety of studies have verified that individuals develop social categories that are intended to boost their self esteem. For example, after individuals are informed their group is unsociable, they either trivialize the importance of this trait or perceive other groups as unsociable as well (Ford & Tonander, 1998).
Two clusters of strategies can be applied to boost status (Haslam, 2001). The first cluster of strategies is called social conflict. Specifically, members of collectives can attempt to undermine the actual status and resources of rival groups. They might engage in violence or protest, for example. The second cluster of strategies is called social creativity. Rather than tangible changes, groups attempt to emphasize the features on which they flourish. They might advertize their strengths. They might compare themselves to a rival in which they are superior.
When members of these entities do not feel especially threatened--but feel their status is secure--they are more likely to engage in social creativity. When members of these entities feel particularly threatened, they are more likely to engage in social conflict (Haslam, 2001). Nevertheless, even in threatening situations, both social creativity and social conflict might operate.
To examine which of these strategies hate sites utilize, Douglas, McGarty, Bliuc, and Lala (2005) examined 43 online sites, associated with the KKK and Nazi Party. Some of the messages underscored social conflict, such as "active self-defense". Other messages underscored social creativity, such as "no one culture is superior to another...(however) racial integration threatens (everyone)". They even seemed collaborative rather than competitive.
The extent to which the message demonstrated social conflict or social creativity was rated on scales from 0 to 100. Interestingly, although these sites were derived from a book on hate groups, social creativity was more common than social conflict. Anonymity did not significantly influence which strategies were applied. Furthermore, only 16% of the sites advocated direct violence.
Although these findings might initially seem pleasing, Douglas, McGarty, Bliuc, and Lala (2005) contended that social creativity might be intended to circumvent laws on hate sites. Web administrators who evoke violence can be subjected to legal action. Furthermore, social creativity might enhance perceived legitimacy, curbing resistance and counterarguments, but are ultimately intended to instill hostility or conflict.
The evolution of these shared perspectives improves the wellbeing of members. With the perceived and actual support of other members, they feel they can more readily withstand or overcome difficulties (Haslam, O'Brien, Jetten, Vormedal, & Penna, 2005). Second, they believe their feelings and perspectives will be validated, accepted, and respected, which improves wellbeing (Pilavin, 2006; cited in Reicher, Haslam, & Rath, 2008). Third, the coordinated action of many individuals uncovers opportunities that are otherwise implausible (Drury & Reicher, 2005).
In informative study, Haslam and Reicher (2006) showed that participants become more resilient when they feel a sense of shared identity with other individuals. This study mirrored the Stanford Prison Experiment, but interventions were introduced to guarantee the safety of participants, such as monitoring by clinical psychologists. Five participants, all men, were assigned the role of guard. Ten male participants were assigned the role of prisoners.
Over ten days, the participants lived in an environment that physically resembles a prison. The guards were informed, albeit erroneously, they had been allocated to their role because they were reliable and trustworthy as well as exhibited initiative, as measured in a previous test. Until the fourth day, the guards could promote prisoners to a position of guard if they demonstrated these requisite attributes. However, after this day, the two roles were perceived as fixed rather than permeable.
After the roles became entrenched, the prisoners experienced a stronger identity with their collective. That is, they identified considerably with the other prisoners. As a consequence, they become more likely to support one another against the guards Acts of resistance soared. Their sensitivity to stressful events diminished, as measured by assessments of burnout and cortisol.
When the sense of shared identity in guards diminished, they were less inclined to support one another. As a consequence, they were more susceptible to stressful events--that is, conflicts with the prisoners.
According to social identity theory, individuals should be more inclined to identify with groups if they experience a sense of uncertainty. Consistent with this proposition, after individuals experience uncertainty, they are more likely to derogate other groups (McGregor, Reeshma, & So-Jin, 2008).
For example, in the study conducted by McGregor, Reeshma, and So-Jin (2008), participants were instructed to describe personal conflicts and uncertainties that stem from an unresolved personal dilemma--called an uncertainty exercise. To assess outgroup derogation, Canadian participants read an essay, written by a foreigner, that was critical of Canada. The extent to which they disagreed and disliked this person was then assessed, providing an index of outgroup derogation. Furthermore, individuals completed a measure of personal need for structure.
Individuals who seek structure and clarity, as represented by items like "I don't like situations that are uncertain", were more likely than other participants to show outgroup derogation after the uncertainty exercise. Nevertheless, affirmations about their group, which tends to stem this need for structure, tempered this derogation (McGregor, Reeshma, & So-Jin, 2008).
As Dambrun and Vatuien (2010) showed, when individuals need to punish members of out-groups rather than in-groups, they do not feel as distressed. Specifically, Dambrun and Vatuien (2010) utilized a virtual variant of the classical Milgram study. Participants observed a student complete a task. The task was to learn pairs of words. On each trial, a target word was presented. Then, a series of four alternatives appeared. The student had to decide which of these four alternatives was paired with the target word, by pressing the appropriate button.
The participants were told the study was intended to assess the effects of punishment on learning. Whenever the student answered the questions incorrectly, the participants would press a button that generated an electric shock to the student. For every additional incorrect answer, the participants had to increase the shock by 15 volts.
When the number of volts exceeded 150 V, the student, who was actually a confederate, reacted strongly and asked to discontinue. At 300 V, the student groaned loudly. At 330 V, the student no longer responded. If participants hesitated, experimenters would prompt these individuals to continue. They would state "please continue" and later "The experiment requires that you continue". Participants also completed measures of anxiety and truama.
The study, however, departed from the original study, as conducted by Milgram in the 1960s. First, the reactions and behavior of the student had been pre-recorded. Hence, variations across confederates were nullified. In one condition, participants observed this student over video. In another condition, participants only heard the student. Second, participants were told the student was actually an actor, feigning the reactions. This adaptation was included to ensure the study was ethical, demanding limited deception. Third, whether or not the student belonged to the same racial category as the participant was also manipulated. The student was bestowed either a French name, representing the same racial category as participants, or a North African name.
Even though participants were informed the student was an actor, many participants decided to withdraw from the study. Specifically, if the student was visible, 87% withdrew. If the student was not visible, 47% withdrew. Hence, even if told the responses were contrived, participants seemed to empathize with the student, experiencing some of the same emotions, eliciting distress. This distress was especially pronounced if they could observe the person. A sense of proximity thus seemed to evoke empathy.
Whether or not the student belonged to the same racial category as the participant did not affect the rate of withdrawal. Nevertheless, if they belonged to the same races, participants experienced elevated levels of distress and anxiety. Presumably, individuals are more likely to dehumanize members of other racial categories, assuming they experience fewer complex emotions. However, because of the norm to suppress discrimination, this bias did not affect rates of withdrawal.
Perceptions of fairness
Individuals prefer organizations in which the procedures are fair. For example, they prefer the procedures that are used to select job applicants to be unbiased, accurate, and valid. Yet, in many circumstances, they cannot be certain of whether a procedure is fair or unfair. That is, they are not granted enough information to decide.
However, as Blader (2007) showed, if individuals are uncertain whether or not a procedure is fair, they depend on other information. To illustrate, they tend to presume the procedures of organizations or communities in which they identify closely are fair. That is, they show a bias towards any group in which they feel attached. Indeed, even after reflecting upon the degree to which they are similar to other members of their university, they become more likely to presume the selection procedures of this university are fair. They are also more likely to assume that procedures in which they received favorable outcome are fair as well.
In many organizations, CEOs exploit the organization. They may, for example, often use the corporate jet--an expensive activity--even when the financial performance of the organization is declining. They may seek an exorbitant salary during these turbulent times as well. If CEOs identify closely with the organization, this exploitation tends to diminish. In these instances, the CEO wants the organization to flourish. Thus, organizational identification could diminish the need to monitor CEOs more closely (Boivie, Lange, Mcdonald, & Westphal, 2011).
For example, in one study, conducted by Boivie, Lange, Mcdonald, and Westphal (2011), CEOs reported the extent to which they identify with the organization. Sample questions included "When someone makes positive remarks about [this organization], it feels like a personal compliment" and Being a member of [this organization] is a major part of who I am". In addition, financial performance of their firms, as gauged by return on assets and other indices, was collated.
If organizational identification was high, or board members were independent, financial performance was positively related to the income of CEOs and their use of the corporate jet. That is, as financial performance declined, CEOs were not as likely to be rewarded financially or enjoy privileges. In contrast, if organizational identification was low and board members often worked at the organization, financial performance was unrelated to the income of CEOs and their use of the corporate jet. They often enjoyed a steep income and considerable privileges, even if financial performance was deficient.
Usually, individuals are more inclined to trust members of their own collectives. Certainly, individuals are more likely to cooperate on games when the other person is a member of their own group (Krueger, 2007). Social identity theory, however, does not necessary predict that individuals will trust only a person who aligns to their group. Conceivably, if individuals need to evaluate someone who belongs to another group, they might trust the advice of a member of this other collective. Presumably, a member of this collective should be more cognizant of the norms and expectations of this group and, therefore, offer a more judicious evaluation.
Gino, Shang, and Croson (2009) uncovered some interesting data, which aligns with this prediction. In their study, participants received advice from someone who is demographically similar or dissimilar to themselves. When participants seek information about their own behavior, they will tend to trust someone who is similar to themselves--someone who might belong to their social collective. In contrast, when participants seek information about the behavior of someone else--a stranger, for example--they are more inclined to trust someone who is dissimilar to themselves.
Openness to support
Sometimes, when people receive support from someone else, their levels of stress diminish. Yet, if they perceive the person who offers support as someone from another community or group, this assistance does not reduce stress. That is, they may feel uncertain about the motivations that underlie this support, evoking agitation instead.
This possibility was proposed and validated by Frisch, Hausser, van Dick, and Mojzisch (2014). In their study, participants were told they would need to complete a simulated job interview as well as a mathematics tasks and were granted time to prepare. The people who judged their performance were either supportive--nodding, smiling, leaning forwards, and so forth--or unsupportive--crossing arms, frowning, or sighing, for example. In addition, the degree to which these judges were perceived as members of the same group was manipulated. For example, to instill the belief that all individuals were members of the same community, the judges sometimes shared the same initials as the participants and chose the same preferences in an earlier task. In addition, the judges and participants completed a task together. As a manipulation check, participants were asked to indicate the degree to which they perceive themselves and the judges as members of the same group.
In general, supportive judges diminished levels of cortisol, an index of stress, more than did unsupportive judges. Yet, this benefit of support was not observed when the judges were not perceived as members of the same community. Presumably, when individuals do not share the same community, they may interpret signs of support as manipulative; or this support might counter their expectations and thus provoke uncertainty. This pattern of findings, however, was not observed when the measure of stress was subjective strain rather than cortisol levels.
Cooperation with local and global communities
In general, people are more likely to cooperate with members of their own social identity than with other individuals. To illustrate, sometimes people need to decide whether to consume some resource that would benefit themselves but disadvantage a collective, called a public goods dilemma. They might, for example, need to whether to use the materials, such as paper, in their company liberally or sparingly. If they identify closely with this collective, or if their identity with this collective is salient, they are more likely to sacrifice their own needs to assist the collective (e.g., Brewer & Kramer, 1986; De Cremer & Van Vugt, 1999; Wit & Kerr, 2002). In this example, they would use the materials sparingly.
Two distinct mechanisms may underpin the finding that individuals are more likely to behave cooperatively when their social identity is salient (for a review, see Buchan, Brewer, Grimalda, Wilson, Fatas, & Foddy, 2011). First, individuals may be more likely to trust that other people in their group will also reciprocate or behave cooperatively. For example, if they identify closely with their company, they may trust that other employees will also use the materials sparingly. If they did not trust the employees, they could be disadvantaged by their prudent behavior: They would not experience the benefits of these materials themselves, but these materials would later be depleted anyway.
Second, according to self categorization theory, people may categorize themselves as a member of the company rather than merely as individuals. Therefore, their interests revolve around the company. To experience positive emotions, they want their company to thrive. They do not necessarily strive to achieve personal success. They are thus motivated to help the company.
Buchan, Brewer, Grimalda, Wilson, Fatas, and Foddy (2011) provided some evidence that substantiates the proposition that cooperation is, at least partly, underpinned by the tendency of individuals to be motivated by the success of the collectives to which they belong. In this study, participants were granted 10 tokens, each of which could be converted to 50 cents after the study.
Participants could retain these tokens. Alternatively, they could allocate some of these tokens to a local bank account. Only they and three other people in their region could allocate tokens to this account. The amount of tokens in this account would be doubled and then distributed evenly across the four people. Interestingly, if they retained all their tokens, they would receive $5--equivalent to 10 tokens--at the end of this study. If all four people allocated all their tokens to this account, they would receive $10 each--20 tokens--at the end of this study.
A third option was also offered: Participants could allocate some of these tokens to a global bank account. Only they and 11 other people could allocate tokens to this account. Eight of these people were located in other nations. The amount of tokens in this account would be tripled and then distributed evenly across the 12 people.
After this task, participants were asked to specify the extent to which they identify with their local community, nation, and world as a whole. They were also asked to indicate the extent to which they expected the other people to allocate money to the local or global accounts.
If participants identified closely with the world as a whole, they were more likely to allocate money to the global account. Furthermore, in a separate set of questions, these participants also expressed more concern about other global issues, such as global warming, global diseases, and inequities in income around the world. Interestingly, these findings persisted even after expectations about other people were controlled. Hence, these results indicate that some people felt connected to some global entity. They were, therefore, motivated to assisted this global entity, even if they did not necessarily expect a return.
Sensitivity to prejudice
If individuals identify closely with a specific collective, negative stereotypes are more likely to compromise their performance, called stereotype threat. To illustrate, after female participants are exposed to negative stereotypes about the mathematical ability of women, their maths performance usually deteriorates. Nevertheless, if they do not identify strongly with their gender--if their gender is not an important part of their identity--this effect of stereotypes diminishes (Schmader, 2002).
Any acts, objects, or concepts that are associated with the social identity of individuals tend to be perceived as more familiar, and this sense of familiarity is also associated with positive emotions. Even the word "we", which reinforces a sense of connection with social collectives, tends to increase the perceived familiarity and quality of subsequent objects (Houseley, Claypool, Garcia-Marques, & Mackie, 2010).
This effect was first uncovered by Houseley, Claypool, Garcia-Marques, and Mackie (2010). In one study, participants were first asked to name the capital of various US states. Next, they were misled to believe that subliminal syllables had been presented during the previous task. Finally, a series of a nonsense syllables appeared, such as LAJ or YOF. The task of participants was to specify which of these syllables they felt had been presented subliminally while they named the capitals of US states. Before each of these syllables was presented, a pronoun synonymous with social identity, such as "we", "us" and "our", or a neutral pronoun, such as "it" or "its" also appeared for 31 ms, too rapidly to be recognized consciously.
If a syllable followed "we", "us" and "our", rather than "it" or "its, participants were more likely to assume they had observed this series of letters earlier. That is, syllables that followed references to social collectives seemed to elicit a sense of familiarity. This finding implies that individuals tend to associate social collectives with a sense of familiarity (Houseley, Claypool, Garcia-Marques, & Mackie, 2010).
A subsequent study was similar, except participants also rated the extent to which they perceive each syllable as appealing or unappealing. In addition, the primes that preceded the syllables were visible rather than masked. Again, pronouns associated with social collectives elicited a sense of familiarity in the subsequent syllables. Furthermore, this association was mediated by the extent to which these syllables were regarded as appealing or positive (Houseley, Claypool, Garcia-Marques, & Mackie, 2010).
These findings indicate that people typically perceive any objects or concepts they associate with their social identity as positive. Positive stimuli tend to be perceived as more familiar (e.g., Monin, 2003). As a consequence, objects or concepts that individuals associate with their social identity are also regarded as more familiar.
Face recognition and the distinctiveness threat
Individuals like to perceive their own group as distinct from other groups. Sometimes, however, they are exposed to information that challenges this perception, called a distinctiveness threat.
Distinctiveness threat can increase the likelihood that individuals perceive members of their group as relatively homogenous. Indeed, a distinctiveness threat can nullify the cross-race effect.
The cross race effect was discovered over 50 years ago (e.g., Allport, 1954). Specifically, individuals tend to recognize faces that belong to their own race more effectively than faces that belong to other races. Some researchers ascribed this effect to some insensitivity to the subtle features that distinguish members of other races. White individuals might not be especially aware of the facial features that distinguish Black individuals and vice versa. Other researchers ascribed this effect to the perception that members of other races correspond to out-groups. Because these people are equated to members of a group, the unique features of each person are often overlooked, called the outgroup homogeneity effect.
Nevertheless, when individuals are concerned their group is not distinct, called a distinctiveness threat, this cross race effect diminishes. In particular, in these conditions, individuals are motivated to perceive their group as coherent, cohesive, and thus homogenous. Hence, they become more likely to confuse members of their own group (Wilson & Hugenberg, 2010).
Wilson and Hugenberg (2010) conducted a series of studies that vindicate these assumptions. In one study, participants, all of whom were White in skin color, read a bogus article. In one conditions, participants read that Hispanic migration was increasing dramatically, challenging the prevailing profile that characterizes American society and thus representing a distinctiveness threat. In the control condition, participants read the population was aging.
Next, participants completed a procedure that assesses memory of faces. A set of 18 White and 18 Hispanic faces were presented. Later, these faces were presented again, embedded with faces that had not appeared before. Participants had to specify whether they felt these faces had been presented earlier. In the control condition, the White participants were more likely to recognize the White faces. However, when distinctiveness had been threatened, participants were no more likely to recognize the White faces.
Receptivity to change
Variants of social identity theory have also been applied to understand the factors that affect the capacity of individuals to adapt or cope with change. For example, Iyer, Jetten, Tsivrikos, Postmes, and Haslam (2009) showed that individuals who adopt a variety of social identities, perceiving themselves as members of many groups, can accommodate changes in their life more readily.
Specifically, in one study, participants completed a questionnaire immediate before the first year at university and then another questionnaire two months later. Specifically, before they began university, they completed a scale that assessed whether they belong to multiple groups, epitomized by items like "I am currently a member of several different groups". In addition, they completed questions that assess whether these identities are compatible with their conceptualization of a university student, rating the extent to which they endorse statements like "I cannot talk to my friends about what it will be like at university". Two months later, these participants completed questions that assess the extent to which they identify themselves as a university student, representing their capacity to adapt.
Students who had perceived themselves as members of multiple groups adapted more effectively (Iyer, Jetten, Tsivrikos, Postmes, & Haslam, 2009). According to these authors, the various groups confer knowledge, opportunities, confidence, and other resources that can be utilized to withstand the difficulties of transitions. They can accept the uncertainty, as well as the sense of limited ability, that is associated with change.
In addition, students who felt their past identities were compatible with the role as a university student also adapted more seamlessly (Iyer, Jetten, Tsivrikos, Postmes, & Haslam, 2009), identifying more closely with university and consequently experiencing more positive rather than negative emotional states. This compatibility enables a sense of continuity in their identity, which can impart meaning and improve relationships.
Many workgroups, such as health teams, comprise people who belong to diverse professions. As Mitchell, Parker, Giles, Joyce, and Chiang (2012) showed, when members of these workgroups all share similar values and, therefore, identify closely with team, they tend to be more innovative. Yet, when people define members of this team by their professions, this association between team identity and innovation is especially pronounced.
Specifically, if people identify closely with the team, they are more inclined to value and to trust other members. They perceive other members positively. Consequently, they will consider and embrace the suggestions of other individuals in the team. They will, therefore, integrate a diversity of perspectives, enhancing ingenuity and innovation.
If these individuals recognize the diversity of professions in this team, this sequence of events is even more pronounced. These individuals will be more aware that every person offers a distinct perspective. This recognition, coupled with the assumption that everyone in the team is valuable, amplifies the tendency of individuals to seek and to embrace the diverse perspectives of each member and increases the likelihood of innovation.
Mitchell, Parker, Giles, Joyce, and Chiang (2012) conducted a study that verifies these arguments. Individuals from 75 health teams were recruited. They answered questions that assess value congruence (e.g., "Did members of the team have similar values regarding the team's work?"), team identity (e.g., "(Do you) identify strongly with the team?"), salience of the profession (e.g., "When people ask me about who is in the team, I initially think of describing team members in terms of their profession"), and team innovation (e.g., "To what extent does this team produce new ideas and introduce specific changes?"). As predicted, value congruence was positively associated with team identity. Team identity was positively related to innovation, especially when the professions were salient.
Factors that affect the consequences of social identity
Dimensions of identification: attachment and glorification
One factor that moderates the effects of social identity is the form of identification. In particular, many researchers conceptualized identification as a unidimensional scale (e.g., Doosje, Ellemers, & Spears, 1995). Recent studies indicate that identification might be multidimensional. Two possible dimensions of identification, for example, are attachment and glorification (Roccas, Klar, & Liviatan, 2006). That is, the extent to which individuals feel a sense of resonance with the essence of this group and connected to the fate of this collective, called attachment, might vary across individuals (Roccas, Klar, & Liviatan, 2006). Furthermore, the degree to which individuals perceive their group as a superior, called glorification, might also vary across individuals (Roccas, Klar, & Liviatan, 2006). Individuals might feel attached to their group, but not perceive this collective as superior, or vice versa.
The consequences of ingroup attachment and ingroup glorification differ from one another. When ingroup attachment is elevated, individuals feel especially ashamed or guilty over the atrocities that are committed by their group. When ingroup glorification is elevated, individuals become less ashamed or guilty (Roccas, Klar, & Liviatan, 2006). That is, to maintain their perception that perhaps their group is superior, individuals evoke more defensive responses or contemplate excuses.
Similarly, Leidner, Castano, Zaiser, and Giner-Sorolla (2010) also showed that ingroup glorification, but not ingroup attachment, increased the likelihood that individuals would excuse the atrocities that were committed by their group. In one study, American participants read about atrocities committed by personnel towards Iraqi prisoners. Some participants were told the personnel were American; other participants were told the personnel were Australian. The extent to which participants felt attached to their nation, wanting to contribute to the prosperity of America, or perceive their nation as superior was also assessed.
If ingroup superiority or glorification was elevated, participants felt the Australian, but not American, personnel need to be punished severely. Furthermore, if they were told the perpetrators were American, they demonstrated manifestations of moral disengagement: They often maintained the suffering of these Iraqi prisoners was minimal and regarded these prisoners as less civil. These observations persisted even after social dominance orientation (see Social dominance theory) or a facet of right wing authoritarianism was controlled. In contrast, ingroup attachment did not affect perceptions of justice or moral disengagement.
Dimensions of identification: Pride versus cognizance of power
Many researchers assume that people who identify closely with their group, such as European Americans who identify closely with their race or ethnicity, are more likely to be prejudiced. Goren and Plaut (2012), however, uncovered a caveat to this assumption. Specifically, they identified a subset of people who recognize their race or ethnicity is privileged and do not derive significant pride from their membership of this group. These individuals tend to embrace diversity, even to a greater extent than people who do not identify closely with their race or ethnicity.
To illustrate, in their study, Goren and Plaut (2012) instructed White participants from America to describe what their race or ethnicity means to them. Some of these participants did not seem to identify closely with their race and ethnicity. Other participants identified closely with their race or ethnicity and derived pride from their membership of this group, epitomized by remarks like "I believe I value success more than some people of other races." Finally, some participants identified closely with their race or ethnicity but felt privileged as a consequence, epitomized by remarks like "Being White also shelters me from the real world of racial discrimination...I do not experience the troubles and trials many people of minority races must deal with daily". Next, all participants completed questionnaires that assess their receptivity to diversity and their feelings towards other ethnicities.
Relative to people who did not identify closely with their race and ethnicity, participants who derived pride from their group were not as likely to embrace diversity. In contrast, participants who felt their race or ethnicity was privileged were more likely to embrace diversity.
Legitimate, stable, and impermeable boundaries
As Tajfel and Turner (1979, 1986) emphasized, aggression and competition between groups does not always unfold. Individuals do not always perceive their group as superior to other collectives (see also Haslam, 2004). Specifically, if the differences between groups are legitimate, stable, and impermeable, this aggression or competition diminishes.
For example, in many surgical teams, the surgeons are conferred more status than nurses. This difference in status is often considered legitimate, because surgeons have usually studied more extensively. Furthermore, this difference in status is also stable over time. Finally, this difference is impermeable: People cannot readily switch from one discipline to another discipline. Thus, as Chattopadhyay, Finn, and Ashkanasy (2010) emphasized, competition between these disciplines is uncommon. Similarly, competition between pilots and attendants and between scientists and technicians, for example, is uncommon.
Instead, aggression and competition is often prevalent within, rather than between, these disciplines. According to Chattopadhyay, Finn, and Ashkanasy (2010), the incidence of these negative events depends on the relative size of each discipline. For example, to enhance their status, in surgical teams, doctors will not attempt to compete with nurses: Their status is already reinforced. Instead, they will tend to compete with other doctors, striving to establish their credibility or prestige. As the relative number of doctors increases, the likelihood of these conflicts escalates. Negative behaviors, such as strident criticisms about competence or integrity, become rife.
Similarly, to enhance their status, nurses will not attempt to compete with doctors: This competition is often fruitless. Instead, they will strive to demonstrate their other qualities, such as their capacity to be supportive. As the relative number of nurses increases, their capacity to fulfill this role improves. They can, for example, more readily resolve conflicts between doctors. Negative behaviors diminish. Consistent with these propositions, as Chattopadhyay, Finn, and Ashkanasy (2010) showed, when teams comprise relatively few doctors and many nurses, fewer negative behaviors were observed. Doctors did not compete with each other; nurses could resolve problems as well.
The notion of entitativity, representing the degree to which a collection of individuals is perceived as a coherent entity or group, was proposed by Campbell (1958). Entitativity is related to, but distinct, from the degree to which members are similar to one another (Crump, Hamilton, Sherman, Lickel, & Thakkar, 2009). Entitativity is highest in intimacy groups, such as families or cliques, slightly lower in task groups, such as sporting clubs or projects teams, and again lower in broader categories, such as ethnic groups, and lowest in people who share some transient similarity, such as common fate (Lickel, Hamilton, Wieczorkowska, Lewis, Sherman, & Uhles, 2000).
Interestingly, as Crawford and Salaman (2012) showed, groups that epitomize the features of entitativity are more likely to fulfill the fundamental needs of people. Specifically, in this study, participants identified the various groups to which they belong. They rated each group on the features that epitomize or determine entitativity, such as the importance of this group to the participant, the level of interaction between members, the degree to which members share the same goal and experience the same outcomes, the perceived similarity in the personality or behavior of individuals, and the difficulty with which people can leave or join the group. Finally, participants rated the degree to which these groups fulfill the relationship, achievement, and identity or self-esteem needs of individuals.
For intimacy groups, these features of entitativity were positively associated with the fulfillment of all three needs. Similarly, for task groups, these features of entitativity were also positively associated with the fulfillment of all three needs, especially achievement needs. For social categories, like ethnic groups, entitativity was particularly associated with self-esteem or identity needs. Presumably, when groups are perceived as entitative, individuals feel their relationships within these communities are stable, their goals are more likely to be fulfilled, and their roles or identity is consistent across time as well.
Entitativity and donations
In general, individuals are more willing to donate money to disadvantaged people or threatened animals that seem to form a tight or cohesive group, called entitavity. They are, for example, more likely to donate money to a group of poor children who are depicted as a family rather than as separate individuals (Smith, Faro, & Burson, 2013). Likewise, people are also more likely to donate money to support endangered animals that are portrayed as moving in unison (Smith, Faro, & Burson, 2013).
For example, in one study, participants watched 25 butterflies on a screen either fly in formation or fly in from different directions. They were then asked to donate money to a charity that preserves an environment and may save this species of butterfly. Participants were willing to donate about 70% more if the butterflies seemed to fly in formation and therefore, in some sense, seemed to represent a single entity.
In the second study, participants saw a group of six disadvantaged children in a portrait, who were either depicted as siblings of one family or as unrelated. If the children were depicted as siblings, and therefore as a entitative group, participants were more willing to donate money. The extent to which the group was perceived as tight, and thus entitative, mediated this relationship. The extent to which people felt the donations would be effective did not mediate this relationship. Therefore, one alternative explanation--that entitative groups may be perceived as distributing the money more efficiently--was discounted.
When individuals perceive a group as a distinct entity, they direct their attention to the essential features of this collective rather than to the features of each individual. They assume that each member exhibits the essential feature of this group. If a group is perceived as fundamentally disadvantaged, donors may extend this sense of disadvantage to each person; the level of disadvantage will be perceived as more extreme, prompting a strong motivation to donate money.
In contrast, if a set of individuals is not perceived as a tight group, people do not orient their attention to the essential feature of this collective. Donors may perceive some of the individuals as disadvantaged and other individuals as less disadvantaged. Thhey may, therefore, not feel the need to donate considerable money.
Continuity with the past: Prejudice
Sometimes, individuals feel the groups to which belong, such as their organization or nation, evolved discontinuously. They might feel the group fifty years ago share no characteristics or values with the group now. On other occasions, individuals might feel the groups to which they belong have evolved continuously over time. That is, they might feel the features and values of this group have remained stable.
According to Jetten and Wohl (2012), if individuals feel their groups have evolved discontinuously over time, they are more likely to perceive other groups unfavorably. In particular, because of this discontinuity, they feel their group may be unstable. They feel a powerful motivation to preserve their group. To fulfill this goal, they prefer to shun other groups.
Jetten and Wohl (2012) conducted two studies that verified this possibility. In one study, some participants read an excerpt that highlighted their nation, England, had evolved discontinuously. They were informed the nation people know now is unrecognizable from the nation in the past. They were also informed the nation will continue to change in the future. Other participants read an excerpt that highlighted the continuity of England. They were informed the two sides of England in the past, the bright cities and green countryside, also define England today, and that such features will continue into the future. Next, participants completed a measure of collective angst, such as "I am worried about the future vitality of England" as well as a measure that gauges the degree to which they identify with England. Finally, they were asked to indicate the degree to which embrace immigration.
Relative to the participants who read about the discontinuity of England, participants who read about the continuity of England were more likely to embrace, rather than reject, immigration, especially if they identified strongly with this nation. They did not feel the need to protect their identity. This relationship was mediated by collective angst. In addition, a second study generated the same pattern of results, even after references to the future were deleted. That is, discontinuity with the past, rather than future, is sufficient to provoke unfavorable attitudes towards immigrants.
Continuity with the past: Wellbeing
When individuals feel their community now espouses the same values and traditions as their community in the past--or is historically connected to their community in the past--they tend to value this community more. They perceive this community as a source of well-being, diminishing feelings of alienation (Sani, Bowe, & Herrera, 2008).
In particular, when individuals feel their community is contiguous with the past, two benefits unfold. First, the entitavity of this community increases. That is, individuals perceive their community as a solid, tangible entity. People like to be members of such a solid, tangible community, because they feel a sense of clarity and certainty. Second, in these communities, people experience collective self-esteem. They feel the community must be strong and robust--a perception that can translate to clarity and pride.
Sani, Bowe, and Herrera (2008) conducted a study to investigate these arguments. Spanish participants completed scales that measure cultural continuity (e.g., "Spanish people have passed on their traditions across different generations") and the historical continuity (e.g., "Major phases in Spanish history are linked to one another"). They also received measures of group entitativity (e.g., "The group of Spanish people is like a unified whole"), collective self-esteem (e.g., "In general, others respect Spaniards"), social wellbeing (e.g., "My community is a source of comfort"), and anomia or alienation (e.g., "These days a person doesn't really know whom he/she can count on"). As predicted, continuity of the community was positively associated with social wellbeing and negatively associated with alienation. Entitativity and collective self-esteem mediated this relationship.
Compatibility of social identities and radicalization
Many individuals feel they belong to more than one social identity. For example, migrants often identify with both their former nation and their current nation. Sometimes, individuals feel these two identities are compatible. On other occasions, they might feel their two identities are incompatible. That is, they might feel they would need to relinquish one identity to belong to the other identity. If individuals perceive their identities as incompatible, they actually become more likely to embrace radical perspectives. They may even embrace terrorism. Arguably, because they are not certain how to behave, they experience stress or limited motivation.
This possibility was demonstrated by Simon, Reichert, and Grabow (2013). In this study, the participants were Russian or Turkish migrants, living in Germany. They were asked to indicate the whether they identify with both their former and current nations, such as "I feel I belong to both the Turks/Russians and the Germans". In addition, to gauge whether or not these identities are incompatible, they answered the question "I have the feeling that I would have to give up my Turkish/Russian identity if I wanted to become German". In addition, they were asked to indicate whether or not they sympathize with radical actions, such as illegal or violent demonstrations. They completed this questionnaire again six or so months later.
The degree to which participants identified with both their previous and current nation was positively associated with an increase in sympathy with radical actions over time, but only in people who perceived these identities as incompatible. These findings persisted after controlling other variables, such as religious identity, demographics, collective efficacy, and identification with their ethno-cultural group.
Determinants of group categorization
Threat and vulnerability
Many factors, including the social context, determine the categorization of other people into in-groups and out-groups. To illustrate, when individuals feel a sense of vulnerability, they are more likely to categorize unfamiliar people as members of out-groups rather than in-groups (Miller, Maner, & Becker, 2010).
Specifically, individuals are often wary of out-groups. Nevertheless, they cannot be too wary or vigilant all the time; otherwise, they could not pursue other goals. Instead, they tend to become especially wary in response to cues that often coincide with danger, such as darkness. In these contexts, according to error management theory, individuals are more likely to survive and thrive if they are too vigilant rather than not vigilant enough. That is, when threats are imminent, individuals would rather than falsely assume that someone is an enemy than falsely believe that someone is a friend. They will, therefore, be inclined to conceptualize an unfamiliar person as a member of an out-group rather than in-group (Miller, Maner, & Becker, 2010).
Several cues in the environment might evoke this sense of threat. Environments replete with males rather than females are more likely to be perceived as dangerous, for example, increasing the likelihood that unfamiliar people are conceptualized as members of out-groups. Second, environments replete with people who are approaching, rather than withdrawing, or who seem anger instead of happy, are also perceived as more threatening (Miller, Maner, & Becker, 2010). Furthermore, individuals who are particularly sensitive to feelings of fear and vulnerability are also more likely to perceive environments as threatening (Miller, Maner, & Becker, 2010).
Miller, Maner, and Becker (2010) undertook a series of studies that confirm these arguments. In the first study, participants, all of whom were White in skin, listened to recordings of various male voices. They were asked to determine whether they believed speaker is likely to be Black or White in skin. If the voice was very masculine--a cue that coincides with a sense of threat--they were more inclined to assume the person was a member of an out-group, in this instance Black.
In the second study, participants watched other people walking in the dark. Small lights were fitted to certain parts of the body. Participants could observe only the movement of these lights and evaluated the race of these individuals. If the people exhibited a masculine body, with narrow hips and broad shoulders for example, they were more likely to be rated as an out-group member (Miller, Maner, & Becker, 2010). In the third study, people who were approaching rather than withdrawing were also more likely to be designated as members of the out-group (Miller, Maner, & Becker, 2010).
In the fourth study, a series of faces appeared on the screen. White participants has to decide, as rapidly as possible, whether the face was white or black. If the face was angry and black, and thus elicited a sense of threat, participants responded rapidly: That is, angry faces were more likely to be initially perceived as members of the out-group, in this instance black. In contrast, when the face was angry and white, participants did not respond as rapidly (Miller, Maner, & Becker, 2010).
Subsequent studies showed that characteristics of the participants themselves can affect the likelihood they perceive unfamiliar people as members of out-groups. After individuals were exposed to a movie that evokes fear, or espoused the belief the world is dangerous, they became more likely to categorize people as members of out-groups (Miller, Maner, & Becker, 2010).
Furthermore, as Knowles and Gardner (2008) showed, after individuals feel rejected in a social context, they attempt to conceptualize themselves as members of a particular subset of groups--groups that confer a sense of belonging. In one study, some participants imagined a time in which they felt rejected by a friend. Other participants imagined a time in which they felt they belonged. Next, participants completed a measure that assesses whether or not they are more sensitive to words that relate to groups than to other terms (see measures of accessibility). In particular, words with missing letters were presented, like cl - - , - - - ily, and te - -, were presented. Participants had to identify the word. The items could be completed with words that relate to groups, such as club, or with words that do not relate to groups, such as clot. Finally, a measure of self esteem was administered.
After participants reminisced about a time in which they were rejected, they were more likely to identify words that relate to groups, such as club, family, member, team, male, woman, and white. Hence, to instill a sense of belonging, their attention was especially directed to groups. Furthermore, if indeed words that relate to groups were accessible, as measured by this word fragment task, recollections of rejection did not curb self esteem. Hence, this accessibility of groups seems to reinforce self esteem. Finally, subsequent studies showed this effect cannot be ascribed merely to mood: Recollections of physical distress, for example, did not elicit comparable responses.
Indeed, after individuals feel rejected, excluded, or ostracized, they experience a strong need to belong. That is, they seek other people with whom they can form friendships or associations. To decide whether other people will be receptive to these friendships or associations, individuals in this state become especially sensitive to cues that differentiate in-groups and out-groups.
For example, when need to belong is elevated, individuals can readily distinguish between people who seem happy and people who seem neutral, but cannot as readily distinguish between different happy people. That is, their attention is directed towards cues--in this instance, an emotional expression--that predict whether or not another person will be inclusive. Similarly, when this need to belong is elevated, individuals can also readily distinguish between social categories, such as race (Sacco, Wirth, Hugenberg, Chen, & Williams, 2011).
To assess these possibilities, Sacco, Wirth, Hugenberg, Chen, and Williams (2011) conducted a series of studies. In the first study, participants played Cyberball, a computer game with two other people, actually preprogrammed confederates, in which they use a computer mouse to throw a ball to one another. Some of the participants were rejected: the ball was thrown to them only twice, towards the beginning of this game. The other participants were not rejected. Next, participants completed a measure that gauges their need to belong as well as some other motives.
Finally, participants completed a task that determines their capacity to distinguish faces that were the same apart from the expression. In particular, the researchers constructed ten photographs. One photograph was a person with a very happy expression. Another photograph was the same person with a very angry expression. The other photographs were an amalgam of these two extreme expressions; that is, the happy and angry face were morphed digitally. For example, three of the photographs were primarily happy, comprising 90%, 80%, or 70% of the happy face. Three of the photographs were primarily angry, comprising 90%, 80%, or 70% of the angry face. The remaining faces were neutral, comprising 40%, 50%, or 60% of the happy and angry face.
On each trial, two faces were presented. The two faces were either the same or differed by 20%, such as 40% happy and 60% happy. Participants had to decide whether these two faces were the same or different. Relative to the other participants, individuals who had been excluded could readily distinguish faces that corresponded to different categories, such as 70% happy and 50% happy, representing the happy and neutral categories respectively. They could not, however, readily distinguish faces that correspond to the same category, such as 100% happy and 80% happy.
The second study was the same, except one face was a White American and the other face was a Black American. The other faces were morphs of these two faces. Nevertheless, the same pattern of results was observed. Excluded participants could readily distinguish between two faces that corresponded to a different category, such as 70% White and 50% White, but not between two faces that corresponded to the same category. The third study showed this effect did not persist when objects, rather than people, needed to be distinguished. In short, these findings indicate that rejected or excluded people tend to distinguish social categories readily, perhaps to determine whether they will be included or excluded.
Development of social identity
When the context of individuals changes--for example, when they join a new group--individuals need to reconfigure their concept of themselves to accommodate this updated social identity (see Amiot, de la Sablonniere, Terry, & Smith, 2007; Amiot, Terry, Wirawan, & Grice, 2010). That is, over time, individuals tend to form a diversity of social identities. If these social identities are consistent with one another, individuals experience wellbeing. If these social identities contradict one another, wellbeing diminishes.
Several factors can facilitate or inhibit the capacity of individuals to adjust to a group and thus modify their social identity. When the context is supportive, or when the group satisfies the fundamental psychological needs of individuals--autonomy, competence, and relatedness (see self determination theory)--people adjust more effectively. For example, in some groups, people can express their values, conferring autonomy, attract respect for their skills, conferring a sense of competence, and develop meaningful relationships. People are more inclined to identify with these collectives, shaping their social identity.
When individuals join a group, they need to expend effort to understand and to accommodate the demands, norms, and practices of this collective. To cope with these changes, people might apply strategies that focus on tasks, such as planning activities and seeking information, increasing their identification with this group. Alternatively, they might apply various emotional or avoidance strategies, such as disengage from the context, curbing identification.
In addition to strategies that are intended to alleviate emotions, these individuals will enact strategies that are intended to manage their relationship with the groups. First, they might strive to adopt the norms of this group to facilitate inclusion. Second, they might attempt to focus their attention on the positive values of the group relative to other collectives. Overall, according to this model, social support and need satisfaction should facilitate the use of active coping, efforts to facilitate inclusion, and focus on positive values of the group instead of avoidance or disengagement. These strategies facilitate the capacity of individuals to identify with the group, improving wellbeing.
Amiot, Terry, Wirawan, and Grice (2010) first demonstrated how this model applies to the transition of students from school to university. Two months before they began university, participants completed a questionnaire that assessed the level of social support they experience, the degree to which their fundamental psychological needs are fulfilled, the degree to which they feel a sense of identification with the university, and wellbeing, as represented by a scale of vitality. The second questionnaire was similar, except the strategies that individuals used to cope with the transition were also assessed.
The hypotheses were supported. When individuals experienced social support as well as fulfilled psychological needs before the transition, they were more likely to engage in active coping strategies during the transition--planning and information seeking, for example--facilitating identification with the university and increasing vitality.
A second study then replicated these findings in the context of an online gaming community that had recently evolved. The same pattern of results emerged. In addition, attempts to become more included--epitomized by items such as "I adopt behaviors that allow me to fit into the on-line community"--and perceive the group favourably--assessed by items like "When I can, I tell people how good the new on-line game is in comparison to other on-line games"--mediated the relationship between social support or need fulfilment and identification with the community.
In other contexts, however, identification with the new social identity might promote conflict instead of wellbeing. Specifically, this new social identity may contradict the beliefs and norms of other social identities, especially if these collectives differ in status.
Stability of the self concept and self anchoring
Some people feel their traits and characteristics are consistent across time and settings. Other people recognize their traits and characteristics vary over time. They are not always as certain of which qualities and attributes they exhibit. As Van Veelen, Otten, and Hansen (2011) showed, when individuals feel their traits and characteristics are stable across time, called self concept stability, they are more likely to identify strongly with groups.
An interesting sequence of variables relate the stability of self concepts to identification with groups. In particular, when their self concept is stable, people are more certain of their attributes. They become more likely, therefore, to assume the groups to which they belong also demonstrate these attributes. That is, they project their own qualities onto these groups, called self anchoring. For example, if they feel they are sociable, they perceive the groups to which they belong, such as their workgroup, as sociable as well. Because of this sense of similarity, they feel more connected to the group.
Van Veelen, Otten, and Hansen (2011) conducted a pair of studies that corroborate these arguments. In the first study, psychology students were first asked to rate themselves on a series of traits, such as musical or tidy. Later, they rated their group--psychology students in general--on the same traits. In addition, they completed questions that assess whether they perceive their self concept as stable, such as "I act the same way no matter who I am with". Finally, they completed a measure of social identification. This measure assessed the degree to which individuals felt a sense of attachment, solidarity or bond to the group as well as the sense of similarity to this group.
To gauge self anchoring, the researchers calculated the correlation between the self and group ratings. A high correlation could indicate that participants projected their own traits onto the group, representing self anchoring. Admittedly, a high correlation could also indicate that participants projected their perception of the group onto themselves, called self stereotyping. For example, if they know their group is extraverted, they become more inclined to perceive themselves as extraverted as well. However, in this instance, self stereotyping was unlikely, because the researchers included traits that are not known to be associated with psychology students in general.
As hypothesized, stability of the self concept was positively associated with the measure of self anchoring. This self anchoring was also with social identification.
Study 2 was similar, except some of the traits were more stereotypical of psychology students. The correlation between the self and group on these traits was assumed to be more representative of self stereotyping. Nevertheless, even after self stereotyping was controlled, self anchoring was associated with self identification, especially a sense of attachment or solidarity with the group.
Perhaps both self stereotyping and self anchoring facilitate social identification and enable individuals to feel a sense of overlap with the group. Perhaps self anchoring is more prominent when the norms of these groups are unclear or the members are not homogenous.
Individual differences in motivations
Proponents of social identity theory do not often consider individual differences in the underlying motivations of people to identify with groups. Although implicit, for example, some researchers assume that everyone likes to identify with a group to clarify their own roles, qualities, and expectations.
Mayhew, Gardner, and Ashkanasy (2010), however, developed a scale that assumes that such motivations vary across individuals. In particular, they constructed a scale that comprises 11 items. Six of the items represent the extent to which individuals like to identify with groups to understand themselves. Examples include "My groups illustrate who I am" or "Being a part of groups provides my with an identity". Five of the items represent the degree to which individuals like to feel connected to a social collective. Typical items include "I enjoy being part of my groups" or "I have a lot in common with other members of my groups". Confirmatory factor analyses confirmed these two distinct facets.
Control over the environment and respect
As Knight and Haslam (2010) showed, when employees are granted opportunities to express their opinion and ideas on how the office should be designed, as well as permitted to change various facets of the design, they are more likely to feel connected to their team or workgroup as well as satisfied with their job. That is, individuals are more likely to identify with a collective in which they are granted respect and status; if they feel some sense of control in their environment, they feel respected, instilling a sense of identity.
For example, in the first study that was reported by Knight and Haslam (2010), participants answered questions that assess the extent to which they are consulted on changes in the layout or design of the workspace as well as the degree to which they are permitted to change the environment, such as the temperature. Other questions were administered to gauge whether they feel comfortable at the office, a sense of identity with the organization, and satisfaction with their job. As hypothesized, if employees were consulted about the layout or permitted to change this design, they were more likely to feel comfortable, translating to a sense of identity with the organization and satisfaction with the job.
Several practical implications emerge from these findings. Employees should be permitted to decorate their workspace with photographs, plants, and other personal items. Open plan offices should not be imposed, if possible, because they curb this sense of control as well as increase the level of surveillance, ultimately compromising job satisfaction (e.g., Duvalleary & Benedict, 1992).
Efficacy of the group
According to van Zomeren, Leach, and Spears (2010), if individuals perceive a specific group as influential, they are more likely to feel a sense of identity with this group. In particular, when individuals perceive a group as influential, they anticipate collective action. That is, they feel that members are likely to act in unison to fulfill some goal. This sense of collective action highlights the shared identity of individuals. The group seems more cohesive and thus salient; individuals are thus more likely to identify with this group.
This possibility was substantiated by van Zomeren, Leach, and Spears (2010). In their study, participants were informed the tuition fees of their university might soon increase. Some individuals were then informed that collection action is often effective and may prevent this change. Other individuals were told that collective action tends to be futile. Finally, participants were asked questions to assess the degree to which they identify themselves as a student as well as the degree to which they feel inspired to participate in collective action, like demonstrations.
If participants were informed that collective action is effective, they were more likely to identify themselves as a student. This relationship was mediated by the motivation to participate in collective action.
Diffusion of identity
The extent to which people identify with some collective, such as an organization, partly depends on the degree to which other individuals, especially experts, identify with this collective. For example, in one study, conducted by Kraus, Ahearne, Lam, and Wieseke (2012), employees of a travel agency indicated the degree to which they identify with their company. Sample items included "When someone criticizes the organization, it feels like a personal insult".
The degree to which participants identified with the organization at one time was positively associated with the extent to which both their supervisors and the most experienced person in their team--the so-called expert--also identified with the organization. Conceivably, when a respected or influential person identifies closely with the organization, they exhibit a specific profile of behaviors. They might seem more positive, express favorable comments, or reward behaviors that align to the needs of this organization. These behaviors then increase the likelihood that other people identify with the organization as well.
Interestingly, as employees become more experienced, the extent to which they identify with the organization is influenced more by the attitudes of experts rather than by the attitudes of supervisors. Presumably, they feel more similar to these experts and, therefore, are especially influenced by the attitudes of these individuals.
Salience of cues
Many features and characteristics can be used to form social identities. For example, individuals often examine the appearance or accents of people to identify social identities related to ethnicity. Interestingly, accents seem more important than appearance. That is, people are more likely to confuse individuals with the same accent but distinct appearances than with different accents but similar appearances (see Rakic, Steffens, & Mummendey, 2011).
The goals or objectives of some context
The goals or objective of some context can affect the groups to which people feel they belong. For example, in one study, some participants, all of whom were psychology students, were told that researchers are interested in which universities develop the best promotional material (van Rijswijk, Haslam, & Ellemers, 2006). Next, they were informed they will watch two videos. The first video was developed by their own psychology department. The second video was developed either by a physics department at their university or a psychology department at another university. Before watching this second video, however, the individuals indicated the extent to which their department is open-minded--a trait that is valued in this discipline.
In general, if told they will watch a video by a psychology department at another university instead of the physics department, participants were more likely to perceive their department as open-minded (van Rijswijk, Haslam, & Ellemers, 2006). Presumably, because the objective in this context was to compare universities, individuals were especially motivated to perceive their university as different to other universities. The prospect they may discover the two universities are similar threatened the distinctiveness of their institution. To differentiate their university from other institution, they inflated the degree to which their department is open-minded.
In contrast, some participants were told the researchers are interested in which disciplines develop the best promotional material. In this instance, if told they will watch a video by the physics department at their university instead of a psychology department at another university, participants were more likely to perceive their department as open-minded. Presumably, because the objective was to compare discplines, individuals were especially motivated to perceive their discipline as different to other fields (van Rijswijk, Haslam, & Ellemers, 2006).
Benefits of diversity
According to previous variants of social identity theory, people feel more connected to collectives when members share some characteristic , such as personality or ethnicity, in common. However, Jans, Postmes, and Van der Zee (2012) uncovered an important exception to this premise. As these researchers showed, when employees are each assigned a distinct role, they feel more connected to their workgroup when they do not share the same personality.
To illustrate, in one condition, the members of a team were assigned a distinct role. In particular, the task was to construct t-shirts with a particular logo. Each person drew a specific part of the logo on each t-shirt. In the other condition, each member drew the entire logo on one t-shirt. That is, in this condition, every person completed the same task.
Furthermore, participants completed a contrived personality inventory. Some teams were then informed that all members shared the same profile. Other teams were informed that members exhibited a diverse range of profiles. In addition, participants completed a series of questions, intended to ascertain the extent to which they felt connected to the group. Finally, participants completed a game that was intended to assess cooperation: If they shared some resource, they would earn less money but everyone else would earn more money.
If the members all completed the same task, they felt more connected to the team, and were more inclined to share resources, if informed they all exhibit the same personality. In contrast, if each member completed a different task, they felt more connected to the team, and were more inclined to share resources, if informed the personality of members is diverse. Presumably, when people complete distinct tasks, they feel, perhaps unconsciously, that diversity is valuable. They will, therefore, feel more connected to a diverse team.
Implications of social identity theory and self categorization
Social identity theory and self categorization theory have spawned many other models. One example is the social identity theory of leadership. According to this theory, people prefer leaders who epitomize the norms or prototypes of the group rather than leaders who demonstrate extraordinary qualities (see social identity theory of leadership).
When does the advantaged challenge social inequality
In many nations, income and rights have become increasing unequal across society. For example, some religious, ethnic, or demographic groups, such as Muslims in Europe or Mainland Chinese in Hong Kong are occasionally disadvantaged when they seek jobs. That is, they are often rejected unfairly. Disadvantaged people are not usually granted the power to intervene and redress this discrimination. Therefore, unless advantaged people decide to protest or intervene as well, this discrimination is likely to continue.
Fortunately, according to the Social Identity Model of Collective Action (Van Zomeren, Postmes, & Spears, 2008), in some instances, advantaged people will intervene to redress these inequalities, provided they feel that such discrimination violates their moral convictions (see van Zomeren, Postmes, Spears, & Bettache, 2011). In particular, individuals advocate moral convictions--standards of behavior they feel should be universally obeyed. They might, for example, feel that discrimination is immoral, and perceive this belief as an important facet of who they are. When this moral conviction is violated, they feel anger towards the perpetrators. This anger also coincides with a feeling of confidence their community can intervene. They also feel a sense of connection to the disadvantaged people. This anger, confidence, and identity with the disadvantaged promotes an intention to intervene as part of a collective.
For example, in one study (van Zomeren, Postmes, Spears, & Bettache, 2011), participants read about a woman in Hong Kong. This woman applied for a job. However, because she was originally from mainland China, she was rejected. Individuals from Hong Kong were then asked to indicate whether they feel this discrimination is immoral and the degree to which they feel this rejection of discrimination is a moral standard that should be applied universally. Next, they were asked to indicate the level of anger they feel towards the perpetrator as well as whether they feel that, as a community, they could address such discrimination. Then, participants were asked whether they feel a sense of identity with Mainland Chinese. Finally, they were asked whether or not they would like to participate in actions that redress discrimination, such as signing petitions or partaking in protests.
As hypothesized, the belief that discrimination is universally immoral was positively associated with anger, efficacy, and identification with the disadvantaged group. This anger, efficacy, and identification with the disadvantaged group was positively related to willingness to engage in collective action. Therefore, to inspire advantaged constituents to support disadvantaged constituents, leaders should highlight that discrimination is regarded as universally immoral.
Similarly, some studies have shown that men can support feminism as well. For example, Vernet, Vala, and Butera (2011) utilized a technique, called re-association, to inspire men to support the feminist movement.
Specifically, participants were first asked the extent to which they support feminism. Next, they were asked to indicate the degree to which they support the rights of women, such as equal pay. Both male and female participants tended to support the rights of women but not endorse feminist movements. Then, participants were told that most of the rights of women today can be ascribed to the efforts of feminist movements. Hence, this discrepancy between their support of the rights and needs of women and their attitudes towards feminism represents a contradiction. Finally, some participants were told this contradiction can be ascribed to forgetting the role of feminism in the support of women. In the control condition, participants were informed this contradiction can be ascribed to discrimination.
Finally, participants were asked to express their attitudes towards feminism again. In contrast to participants who were told this contradiction can be ascribed to discrimination, participants who were told this contradiction can be ascribed to forgetting the role of feminism--a claim that is not as threatening--were subsequently more likely to express positive attitudes towards feminism. The benefits of this technique were observed in both men and women, provided these participants were informed the experimenter who constructed the questionnaire and information was the same sex as themselves.
Presumably, individuals are more likely to change their attitudes towards feminism, provided they do not feel threatened. A sense of threat could provoke reactance (see psychological reactance theory). Information that is presented by someone of the opposite sex, especially on a topic that revolves around gender, may provoke a sense of threat and thus diminish the willingness of individuals to modify their attitudes.
Social identity and extremism
Reicher, Haslam, and Rath (2008) showed how the tenets of social identity theory could explain the hallmarks of terrorist or extremist movements, including Nazism. They demonstrated that members of these groups perceive their pursuits, such as genocide, as virtuous rather than immoral.
In particular, Reicher, Haslam, and Rath (2008) delineated five phases that underpin the evolution of these extremist movements. The first phase represents the formation of a cohesive collective-the in-group. Specifically, the members of this collective adopt a shared set of beliefs, values, and norms. As a consequence, masses of individuals can act collaboratively, even when they are not coordinated or directed explicitly. Because they recognize that other members share their beliefs, values, and norms, trust, respect, cooperation, support, and solidarity all emerge (e.g., Levine, Cassidy, Brazier, & Reicher, 2002; Tyler & Blader, 2001).
During the second phase, members withdraw rights and privileges from anyone who does not belong to the collective. That is, these individuals are actively excluded. Only members are afforded trust, respect, and rights (Reicher, Haslam, & Rath, 2008).
During the third phase, members of other collectives, called out-groups, are perceived as a threat. That is, not only are rights and privileges withdrawn. In addition, these individuals are regarded as hazardous to the cohesion, status, and identity of the in-group (cf Fryer, 1984). Members feel they might not be able to maintain their culture or practices if the out-group prevails. They feel their identity might not be sustainable.
If this threat is imputed to the essence of these out-groups, this perception is especially pernicious. That is, members of the in-group might feel the nature or core of these out-groups is malicious or dangerous. These members feel that other collectives, therefore, might need to be obliterated.
Fourth, as this threat begins to mount, members begin to perceive their own collective as inherently and quintessentially virtuous. To illustrate, Hitler, despite his rampant anti-semitism, seldom alluded to Jews, but instead directed his attention to the distinctive virtues of Germans. Indeed, many leaders strive to highlight their crusades as a conflict between the virtues of their in-group and the vices of out-groups.
Sometimes, this emphasis on their virtues can temper the aggression of members. Members perceive themselves as honorable rather than destructive (e.g., Jetten, Spears, & Manstead, 1997). Nevertheless, if the out-group is perceived as immoral, the obliteration of these collectives can be conceptualized as virtuous-even obligatory-sometimes referred to as a tolerance that breeds intolerance. Indeed, when the importance of tolerance is invoked, members sometimes become more aggressive to collectives they conceptualize as intolerant (Reicher, Haslam, & Rath, 2008).
Hence, when members perceive their own collective as virtuous, and rivals as immoral, they pursue the eradication of these out-groups. This destruction is embraced and celebrated. Aggression is conceptualized as a form of self defense. The annihilation of their rivals is regarded as virtuous and right.
This perspective does not imply that individuals who engage in vile acts are automata, oblivious to the consequences of their actions. In addition, these individuals do not represent a distinct psychological category, different from everyone else. Instead, these individuals somehow feel their behavior is right and honorable.
Transitional religious experience
Transitional religious experience, in which individuals fundamentally transform their religious persuasion or orientation, also represents a change in social identity. Awan (2008) argues that transitions to fundamentalist religion is predicted by socioeconomic deprivation, political disaffection, and impaired constructions of identity. Specifically, impaired employment opportunities, unsuitable housing arrangements, including imprisonment, and institutionalized racism often predict transitions to other religious beliefs and behaviors (for a review, see Awan, 2008). Although individuals themselves might be educated or wealthy, they often feel they belong to a deprived community.
Deprivation can promote a sense of political disaffection, in which individuals feel divorced from the political process. In addition, this deprivation can also challenge the cultural identity of individuals (Awan, 2008).
Awan (2008) depicted the processes that can underpin this shift. To illustrate, some individuals initially identify themselves with a minority culture, such as Lebanese in Australia. Many of these individuals, from second generation immigrants onwards, repudiate their minority culture. They recognize this community is deprived. Furthermore, they often feel the culture of their parents stifles their autonomy and compromises their progress. Nevertheless, once they reject this culture, they feel further alienated from their family and community.
Later, when they tentatively explore their religious heritage, they might be especially sensitive to extracts or symbols that undermine the traditional perspective. They become more receptive, therefore, to extremist perspectives--perspectives that challenge the stringent position of their parents. Indeed, as Gilani and Altaf (2005) showed, authoritarian parenting is positively related to extremist attitudes in their adolescent offspring
Alternatively, some individuals are reared in families that embrace the host or majority culture (Awan, 2008). Indeed, in many instances, they are encouraged, by their family or social groups, to mirror the standards and norms of this host culture. Consequently, these individuals often experience the good copy problem (Moghaddam, 2005): The pressure to copy the host culture implies they can never actually fulfill this standard, but can only ever evolve to become an imitation. They perceive themselves as inferior in comparison; they cannot identify themselves with a distinct and flourishing social identity, and their mental wellbeing is thus compromised.
Transitional religious experiences, however, do not always evolve into radicalization and violence. Nevertheless, according to Awan (2008), socioeconomic deprivation, limited political power, and impaired identification with their culture can also translate into a state of anomie--absence of values and standards, coupled with alienation rather than purpose. Violence might represent an opportunity to override this sense of boredom and dejection.
To override prejudice and conflict, some researchers advocate the common identity model. According to this model, if people feel they belong to the same superordinate group as another race, prejudice diminishes. For example, Jews and Palestinians who feel they belong to a broader Middle East culture may feel less antipathy towards each other.
But, this approach is not always effective. If people conceptualize themselves as part of the same group as their rivals, they may feel their suffering has not been acknowledged. They become defensive, exacerbating prejudice. Or, they may feel not empowered enough to act.
Fortunately, when members of conflicting communities conceptualize both themselves and rivals as victims, their prejudices against one another diminishes. An excellent illustration of this possibility was reported by Shnabel, Halabi, and Noor (2013). In this study, the participants, all of whom were Jewish or Palestinian citizens of Israel, read a newspaper article. In the control condition, the article did not refer to Jewish or Palestinian people. In a condition that highlights the common regional ancestry of Jewish or Palestinian people, the article emphasized that all ancient Middle Eastern individuals, including both Jewish and Palestinian communities, originate from a primordial culture that manifests today. Finally, in a condition that highlights the common victim identity of these communities, the article highlighted that both Jews and Palestinians are victims of an perpetual conflict and, consequently, have experienced remarkable loss in life, trust, hope, and property.
Next, participants were asked to indicate whether their community has experienced more causalities and trauma than has the other community. Finally, they were asked to indicate the extent to which they are willing to forgive the outgroup.
If participants conceptualized both Jews and Palestinians as victims, prejudice diminished; they were more likely to concede that other community had suffered severe loss and were more inclined to forgive. Yet, if participants conceptualized both Jews and Palestinians as originating from the same culture, these benefits were not observed.
According to Shnabel, Halabi, and Noor (2013), when individuals perceive themselves and their rival as victims, several benefits accrue. First, because these individuals are depicted as victims themselves, they experience a sense of innocence. They do not feel the need to defend their morality and are not as inclined to endorse items like "I want the world to understand that my ingroup took part in atrocities because it had no choice". Because they are less defensive, they do not inflate the degree to which they had suffered and are more willing to forgive the other community. Second, the individuals will also recognize that both they and the other community are victims and, consequently, do not feel the need to classify each group as either a victim or perpetrator.
Furthermore, as Shnabel, Halabi, and Noor (2013) showed in a separate study, when participants read an article that highlighted that both communities are perpetrators as well, and have utilized lethal weapons to harm each other, they were also more likely to forgive, but for different reasons. Specifically, after reading these articles, individuals experienced a sense of agency, endorsing items like "The ability to end the conflict is in the hands of the outgroup". They felt more responsible for their actions, also promoting forgiveness.
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Created by Dr Simon Moss on 18/10/2008
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