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Social Identity Theory

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67,
Sidanius, J., & Pratto, F. (1999). Social dominance: An
intergroup theory of social hierarchy and oppression.
New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sidanius, J., Pratto, F., & Mitchell, M. (1994). Ingroup
identification, social dominance orientation, and
differential intergroup social allocation. Journal of
Social Psychology, 134, 151–167.
Online Resources
Social Identity Theory
Gazi Islam
Grenoble Ecole de Management and Insper
Institute for Education and Research, Grenoble,
Social Identity Theory (SIT; Tajfel, 1978; Tajfel
& Turner, 1979) begins with the premise that
individuals define their own identities with regard
to social groups and that such identifications
work to protect and bolster self-identity. The
creation of group identities involves both the
categorization of one’s “in-group” with regard
to an “out-group” and the tendency to view
one’s own group with a positive bias vis-a-vis
the out-group. The result is an identification
with a collective, depersonalized identity based
on group membership and imbued with positive
aspects (e.g., Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, &
Wetherell, 1987).
SIT is a classic social psychological theory that
attempts to explain intergroup conflict as
a function of group-based self-definitions.
Intergroup relations; out-group discrimination;
social psychology of groups; group dynamics
Traditional Debates
SIT grew out of Henri Tajfel’s early work, which
attempted to apply cognitive grouping and gestalt
phenomena to social groups (Hogg & Williams,
2000). Cognitive grouping involves “judgmental
accentuation” where cognitive categories lead to
the increased salience of distinguishing features
between categories, exaggerating category
differences. Applied to social groups, this
principle could be used to explain biased and
exaggerated perceptions of difference between
groups. Tajfel (Tajfel 1970; Tajfel, Flament,
Billig, & Bundy, 1971; Tajfel & Turner, 1979)
used a minimal group paradigm to test this effect.
They divided people into two groups based on
arbitrary criteria and showed that even this “min-
imal” group basis led people to form psycholog-
ical groups, exaggerating the positive qualities of
one’s own group while exaggerating the negative
qualities of the out-group. Subsequent studies
have attempted to demonstrate the wide range
of socially important phenomena that result
from such categorization, such as negative eval-
uations of the out-group (Dovidio, Gaertner, &
Validzic, 1998), stereotyping (Smith, 1999), and
failure to allocate resources to out-group mem-
bers (Sidanius, Pratto, & Mitchell, 1994). How-
ever, more recent research has called into
question whether social identification leads to
out-group degradation and tends to emphasize
positive in-group regard more than out-group
degradation (e.g., Reynolds, Turner, & Haslam,
Positive in-group bias can be explained
because the in-group comes to take on a self-
relevant role, where the person defines him/her-
self through the group. Thus, comparisons
between groups are emotionally laden and equiv-
alent to self-other comparisons, with group
threats interpreted as threats to the self
(Smith, 1999). Turner (1975, p. 10) describe the
Social Identity Theory 1781 S
in-group-out-group relationship as entailing
a “competition for positive identity,” out-group
categorizations strategically framed to maximize
self-evaluations. Thus, treatment of out-group
members is directly related to the motive to
protect or enhance the self (Tajfel & Turner,
Because social identity effects are based on
protection and enhancement of self-concepts,
threat to the self-concept would intuitively be
related to the strongest identity effects. Several
laboratory and field studies have empirically con-
firmed that when groups pose a threat to one
another, the effects of identification increase.
For example, negative out-group characteriza-
tions can result from perceptions of out-groups
as competing for resources (e.g., Cooper & Fazio,
1986) and when groups view the out-group as
having a history of tense relations (e.g., Duckitt
& Mphuthing, 1998), a factor which has made
SIT useful in political psychology.
SIT opened up a wide variety of areas for
research, regarding the structure of social identi-
ties, the motivations behind identification, the
fluidity between different social identities, and
identity’s effects on individuals, groups, organi-
zations, and wider social collectives. As these
research areas grew, they branched into
a variety of theoretical perspectives, including
self-categorization theory, self-enhancement the-
ory, and self-verification theory, among others.
These perspectives do not always agree; for
example, self-verification theory (Swann, 1983)
argues that epistemic motives for self-uncertainty
reduction are a primary motive for identification
such that people will sustain even negative social
identities if these identities provide epistemic
stability. On the other hand, self-enhancement
theory (e.g., Jones, 1973) holds that individuals
strive for positive selves and will thus discount or
underplay negative self-information. Both of
these theories, although contradictory, can be
interpreted in the light of SIT perspectives, in
which social identity contains both an epistemic
and a positive self-regard component. Subse-
quent research has attempted to tease apart
relative effects of self-enhancement and self-
In addition, the question of social identifica-
tion opened up important research into which
groups people identify with, when they identify
with one group versus another, and how consis-
tent and enduring are such identifications.
Because a person can be a member of a family,
a neighborhood, a city, a country, etc., simulta-
neously, the groups a person belongs to must be
supplemented with information regarding which
of these groups is cognitively salient at a given
moment and why. A large body of research (e.g.,
Brewer & Gardner, 1996) has attempted to deal
with the multiple social identities that people
inhabit and how they psychologically organize
these identities.
Critical Debates
From a critical psychology perspective, SIT
offers important insights regarding the social
identity bases of discrimination, prejudice, and
intergroup conflict, by locating these phenomena
as resulting from group-based categorization and
self-enhancement motives. However, the histori-
cal evolution of the theory itself also offers an
interesting case in which intergroup conflicts
become redefined as aspects of individual
identity. As SIT became more focused on self-
verification as an epistemic need (e.g., Hogg &
Williams, 2000), rather than self-enhancement as
a motivational driver of identification, the
conflictual bases of social identity became less
central to the identity literature than the forma-
tion of a stable self-concept. While both of these
bases were apparent in the original theory, critical
scholars may question whether such
a development leaves SIT less able to unpack
the psychological bases of conflict and more
focused on an individual psychology of concept
formation. In this respect, SIT may have devel-
oped increasingly in the direction of an individu-
alist cognitive approach at the cost of its
sociological origins. Yet, the diversity of current
approaches using the term “social identity” belies
simply diagnoses, and the story of the theoretical
evolution of the social identity concept is far from
over. This evolution reflects wider concerns over
S1782 Social Identity Theory
the role of the “social” in social psychology more
generally, a question which is central to critical
psychologists’ concern to link issues of cogni-
tion, attitude, and emotion with larger social
Brewer, M., & Gardner, W. (1996). Who is this “we”?
Levels of collective identity and self representations.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71,
Cooper, J., & Fazio, R. H. (1986). The formation and
persistence of attitudes that support intergroup con-
flict. In S. Worchel & W. Austin (Eds.), Psychology
of intergroup relations (pp. 183–195). Chicago: Nel-
Dovidio, J. F., Gaertner, S. L., & Validzic, A. (1998).
Intergroup bias: Status, differentiation, and
a common in-group identity. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 75(1), 109–120.
Duckitt, J., & Mphuthing, T. (1998). Group identification
and intergroup attitudes: A longitudinal analysis in
South Africa. Journal of Personality and Social Psy-
chology, 74(1), 80–85.
Hogg, M. A., & Williams, K. D. (2000). From I to We:
social identity and the collective self. Group Dynam-
ics: Theory, Research and Practice, 4(1), 81–97.
Jones, S. C. (1973). Self- and interpersonal evaluations:
Esteem theories versus consistency theories. Psycho-
logical Bulletin, 79, 185–199.
Reynolds, K. J., Turner, J. C., & Haslam, S. A. (2000).
When are we better than them and they worse than us?
A closer look at social discrimination in positive and
negative domains. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 78(1), 64–80.
Sidanius, J., Pratto, F., & Mitchell, M. (1994). Ingroup
identification, social dominance orientation, and dif-
ferential intergroup social allocation. Journal of Social
Psychology, 134, 151–167.
Smith, E. R. (1999). Affective and cognitive implications
of a group becoming part of the self: New models of
prejudice and of the self-concept. In D. Abrams &
M. A. Hogg (Eds.), Social identity and social cognition
(pp. 183–196). Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell.
Swann, W. B., Jr. (1983). Self-verification: Bringing
social reality into harmony with the self. In J. Suls &
A. G. Greenwald (Eds.), Psychological perspectives
on the self (Vol. 2, pp. 33–66). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Tajfel, H. (1970). Experiments in intergroup discrimina-
tion. Scientific American, 223, 96–102.
Tajfel, H. (1978). The achievement of inter-group differ-
entiation. In H. Tajfel (Ed.), Differentiation between
social groups (pp. 77–100). London: Academic Press.
Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of
inter-group conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel
(Eds.), The social psychology of inter-group relations
(pp. 33–47). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Tajfel, H., Flament, C., Billig, M., & Bundy, R. (1971).
Social categorization and intergorup behavior.
European Journal of Social Psychology, 1, 149–178.
Turner, J. C. (1975). Social comparison and social iden-
tity: Some prospects for intergroup behaviour.
European Journal of Social Psychology, 5, 5–34.
Turner, J. C., Hogg, M., Oakes, P., Reicher, S., &
Wetherell, M. (1987). Rediscovering the social
group: A self-categorization theory. Oxford, England:
Basil Blackwell.
Online Resources¼59¼Bgarc9vSj5I
Social Justice, Overview
Michael Arfken
Department of Psychology, University of Prince
Edward Island, Charlottetown, PEI, Canada
Human history bears witness to a wide range of
social institutions that have been established in
the name of social justice. One striking feature of
these different institutions is the extent to which
they often diverge from one another. For exam-
ple, while some argue that the cause of social
justice is advanced by ensuring that individuals
are able to engage in unfettered economic
exchange, others view the rise of the calculating
economic agent as the very embodiment of social
injustice. This suggests that the struggle for social
justice ultimately begins in a struggle over the
meaning of justice itself.
At the most basic level, the idea of social justice
highlights the social, political, legal, and institu-
tional arrangements that characterize particular
forms of social organization. One reason why
Social Justice, Overview 1783 S
... According to this theory, people form cognitive groupings based on distinguishing features; they subsequently magnify positive qualities of their in-group and amplify negative qualities of the out-group. These behaviours may exaggerate perceived differences between groups and the categorization of people, leading to societal phenomena such as negative evaluations of outgroups and stereotypes (Islam, 2014). Applying this theory to the present study, when children are identified as having learning difficulties, they may be recognized by their peers as "outsiders" or the out-group, potentially leading to peer rejection and social exclusion of children with learning difficulties. ...
... It is also unclear whether the effects would be similar if feedback came from adolescents' actual friends. Social identity theory (Islam, 2014) predicts that the effects would likely be stronger, given that adolescents more strongly identify with their friends than unknown peers. In that light, the current study represents a conservative test of the power of peers, which already showed promising findings. ...
Full-text available
Impulsivity is a core feature of attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Previous work using the delay discounting task to assess impulsivity reveals that adolescents with ADHD tend to prefer a smaller‐immediate reward over a larger‐delayed reward, and this relates to problematic choices in daily life. To gain a better understanding of daily decision‐making in adolescence, it is important to examine the social context, as peers have a major influence on decisions. Peer influence often has a negative connotation, but also provides an opportunity to promote positive outcomes. To date, it is unclear if peers affect impulsive decision‐making in adolescents with ADHD, for better or for worse. The aim of this preregistered study was to examine the effect of peer feedback on impulsive choice in male adolescents with and without ADHD (ages 13–23; N = 113). We utilized an adapted delay discounting task that was administered alone, in a social condition, and alone again. In the social condition, adolescents received either (between‐subjects) manipulated impulsive or non‐impulsive peer feedback. Impulsive peer feedback consisted of likes for choosing the smaller immediate reward, whereas non‐impulsive peers endorsed choosing the larger delayed reward. Preregistered analyses showed that non‐impulsive peer feedback resulted in decreased impulsive choice, whereas impulsive peer feedback did not alter decision‐making in adolescents with and without ADHD. Explorative analyses of inattention and hyperactivity‐impulsivity symptoms in the total sample, irrespective of diagnosis, showed that lower hyperactivity–impulsivity and more inattention symptoms were associated with increased susceptibility to non‐impulsive peer feedback. Together, these findings indicate that peers may provide an opportunity to decrease impulsivity and emphasize individual differences in susceptibility to non‐impulsive peer feedback related to inattention and hyperactivity–impulsivity. Therefore, peer feedback may be a promising component in behavioral peer‐supported interventions in adolescents with ADHD.
... Contrast to social categorization, social identification refers to the process of identification of an individual with the in-group associated with an exaggeration of the positive characteristics of one's own group and an exaggeration of negative characteristics of the out-group (Islam, 2014). Such groups in which favorable qualities of the in-group are bolstered are also described as common-identity groups in the literature (Prentice, Miller, & Lightdale, 1994). ...
Full-text available
This study set out to investigate the relationship between imagined identities and L2 investments in an in-depth analysis of the three learners’ English learning stories who had diverse motivational profiles in a pre-undergraduate language education program in Turkey. Besides, this inquiry sought to explore the imagined communities informing the policy documents and the program members’ perspectives in order to reveal how their L2-mediated visions interacted with each other. With this purpose in mind, this research was situated within the borders of a multiple case study design and carried out in an Intensive English Language Program in central Turkey. The data of this research were from (a) the L2 Motivational Questionnaire, (b) three rounds of interviews with the three L2 learners integrated with (c) L2 Learning Profile Task, (4) interviews with the program members and (5) document reviews. Based on the investigation and interpretation of the findings, this study clearly supported the standpoint in previous studies that considered the identity construction of language learners as highly complicated, multiple and dynamic. The analysis revealed that the participants’ L2 learning stories were marked with three, either extended or limited, range of imagined identities (as L2 learners/test-takers, L2 users, and L2 sojourners), which guided their selection of contextualized L2 investments. The powerful impact of limited imagined instrumental community envisioned by the preparatory program on its policies and classroom practices and the learners’ imagined identities and L2 investments were also discussed. Based on the findings, some recommendations for further practice and research are made.
... The theory explains that, this type of effect can lead athletes to actions that would avoid the behavior of doping use (Ring & Kavussanu). While Social Acceptance Theory explains that people tend toward the use of this type of substance under the impulse of acting and behaving as part of a group or social circle (Hutchinson et al.), Social Identity Theory on the other hand explain that individuals have their own identities and that they act to protect and support the identity they define and describe themselves with (Cannella, Jones & Withers, 2015;Islam, 2014). ...
... However, it is a state of apprehension created by inter-group struggles and hostile competition that throws-up toxic identity reactions. "Because social identity effects are based on protection and enhancement of self-concept, threat to the self-concept would intuitively be related to the strongest identity effects" (Islam, 2014(Islam, :1782. ...
... class, nation, ethnic group, gender, race etc. Social identity theory grew out of Henri Tajfel's minimal group paradigm experiments, where individuals were arbitrarily divided into two categories. It appeared from these experiments that even "minimal" group basis led people to form psychological groups, exaggerating the positive qualities of one's own in-group while exaggerating the negative qualities of the out-group (Islam, 2014). An individual´s social identity can be defined as those aspects of an individual´s self-image that derive from the social categories to which he/she perceives itself as belonging. ...
Full-text available
The main purpose of this paper is to suggest expansion of rational choice theory´s explanatory sphere through bridging of rational choice theory and social identity theory. In terms of interest(s), it is suggested that the clear distinction between the individual "self" and an inescapable social group, e.g. race, is neutralised through bridging of rational choice theory and social identity theory. Hence, it is also argued that by pursing the collective interest of an inescapable in-group, the individual is indeed pursuing its own interest, as the interests of the individual are inextricably linked to the interests of the whole group. Therefore, the pursuit of private utility maximisation, on the expense of an inescapable in-group, is irrational while pursuing the collective interests of an inescapable in-group is indeed rational. Thus, through bridging of rational choice theory and social identity theory, the explanatory sphere of rational choice is expanded to include action undertaken in the name of a social group.
... Autistic adolescents not only have to negotiate forming their personal identity, but they also start to question their social identity and where they fit in, in terms of their minority group status within the majority culture of nonautistic peers (Ozonoff et al. 2002), asking questions such as "are they just going to reject me?" of non-autistic peers (Acker et al. 2018). Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner 1979;Islam 2014) assumes that one part of the self-concept is defined by belonging to certain social groups. If group membership provides individuals with a sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging, it can have positive psychological consequences (Haslam et al. 2009). ...
Full-text available
Autistic adolescents are at increased risk of mental health difficulties. One potential factor contributing to this is identity development, although this hypothesis has been little explored. These adolescents also have to consider how autism forms their identity, a process called acculturation. This exploratory study examined the relationships between identity, acculturation and mental health in autistic adolescents. Twenty-four participants completed measures investigating identity, acculturation and mental health. Findings suggested mental health was not related to personal identity. Mental health scores did not differ between acculturation groups, however those aligned to non-autistic culture tended to generate more positive self-statements than those aligned to neither culture. These findings suggest autistic adolescents should be encouraged to explore autistic culture and supported in constructing their identity.
... Therefore, I would like to reveal the ways that 'good' and 'evil' are instilled through labeling. Social identity theory is a theory that states that people define their own identities depending on social groups (Islam, 2014). Self-concept is a theory on the totality of an individual's thoughts and feelings having reference to himself as an object (Gecas, 1982). ...
This paper aims to discuss the instilment of good and evil as well as their effects to the royal and villains’ children. I will use the theories of labeling, social identity, and self-concept to analyze the topic. Labeling theory is applied to analyze the ways the labels good and evil are formed through the parents’ past interaction with each other before they instilled it to their children. Social identity theory is used to analyze the ways the children construct their identities depending on the social group they live in. Finally, self-concept theory is applied in providing the ways that the labels good and evil shape the children’s perspective and behavior toward themselves. In the end, it can be concluded that the labeling of good and evil in Descendants could be passed down from parents to children.The labels, along with social groups and other people’s opinions could shape the children’s self-concept about themselves.
Care leaving research has focused on the experiences of young people when they make the transition from residential care facilities (RCCFs) back into mainstream society. Past research has found evidence of social exclusion and documents challenges that care leavers face when re-entering the society when they age-out of care. Some challenges include a lack of preparation for independent living, including limited financial, housing and employment support. There exists a gap in care leaving literature about the extent to which the labelling and stereotyping of care leavers during their time in RCCFs affects their transitions into adulthood. This paper presents an analysis of interviews conducted with care leavers from six childcare facilities in Zimbabwe (n = 30). The paper argues that the labelling and stereotyping of care leavers has a negative effect on how they are accepted and reintegrated into the society. The thematic analysis of the data provides clear evidence of some of the negative labels such as being called an“orphan” in the case of some non-orphans in RCCFs, and the negative stereotypes which stuck with the care leavers years into their adulthood. These labels and stereotypes also affected care leavers’ own perceptions of themselves as well as their interpersonal relationships with others. The paper identifies some implications for social work practice and makes recommendations towards the promotion of a more positive social image of care leavers.
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Three varieties of differential intergroup social allocation were examined in a sample of American students as a function of degree of in-group legitimacy, self-esteem, sex, and social dominance orientation within a standard minimal-groups experimental paradigm. The results are consistent with both social identity theory and much previous research in this area: The greater the in-group identification, the greater the allocation of social value in favor of the in-group. The results are also consistent with the expectations of social dominance theory and show that, even after the effects of gender, self-esteem, and in-group identification were considered, the greater the social dominance orientation, the greater the allocation of social value in favor of the in-group. For two of the three indexes of social value, there was a statistically significant interaction between in-group identification and social dominance orientation. Subjects showing strong acceptance of their in-group classification and who had relatively high levels of social dominance orientation displayed greater in-group bias.
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Cross-cultural perspectives have brought renewed interest in the social aspects of the self and the extent to which individuals define themselves in terms of their relationships to others and to social groups. This article provides a conceptual review of research and theory of the social self, arguing that the personal, relational, and collective levels of self-definition represent distinct forms of self-representation with different origins, sources of self-worth, and social motivations. A set of 3 experiments illustrates how priming of the interpersonal or collective "we" can alter spontaneous judgments of similarity and self-descriptions. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
This book presents a new theory of the social group which seeks to explain how individuals become unified into a group and capable of collective behaviour. The book summarizes classic psychological theories of the group, describes and explains the important effects of group membership on social behaviour, outlines self-categorization theory in full and shows how the general perspective has been applied in research on group formation and cohesion, social influence, the polarization of social attitudes, crowd psychology and social stereotyping. The theory emerges as a fundamental new contribution to social psychology. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Recent studies have reported that the variable of social categorization per se is sufficient for intergroup discrimination. This paper presents an explanation of these findings in terms of the operation of social comparison processes between groups based on the need for a positive ingroup identity. The relationship between perceived social identity and intergroup comparison is elaborated theoretically, and it is argued that social comparisons give rise to processes of mutual differentiation between groups which can be analyzed as a form of ‘social’ competition. Social competition is distinguished from realistic competition (conflict of group interests). New data is reported which strengthens this interpretation of the ‘minimal’ categorization studies. It is found that minimal intergroup discrimination takes place in the distribution of meaningless ‘points’ as well as monetary rewards and that social categorization per se does not lead to intergroup behaviour where the subjects can act directly in terms of ‘self’. Other studies on intergroup biases are reviewed to argue for the generality of social competition in intergroup situations.
The aim of the studies was to assess the effefcs of social categorization on intergroup behaviour when, in the intergroup situation, neither calculations of individual interest nor previously existing attitudes of hostility could have been said to have determined discriminative behaviour against an outgroup. These conditions were satisfied in the experimental design. In the first series of experiments, it was found that the subjects favoured their own group in the distribution of real rewards and penalities in a situation in which nothing but the variable of fairly irrelevant classification distinguished between the ingroup and the outgroup. In the second series of experiments it was found that: 1) maximum joint profit independent of group membership did not affect significantly the manner in which the subjects divided real pecuniary rewards; 2) maximum profit for own group did affect the distribution of rewards; 3) the clearest effect on the distribution of rewards was due to the subjects' attempt to achieve a maximum difference between the ingroup and the outgroup even at the price of sacrificing other ‘objective’ advantages.The design and the results of the study are theoretically discussed within the framework of social norms and expectations and particularly in relation to a ‘generic’ norm of outgroup behaviour prevalent in some societies.