Social Identity Theory: Understanding Identity Development, Intergroup Behavior & More

Paper Type:  Dissertation chapter
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1704 Words
Date:  2023-01-16

Social identity theory is a theory that seeks to develop an understanding of identity development through cognitive processes and how they influence the intergroup behavior in the society setting. Identity is an instrumental aspect that is used to identify people individually but with the highest influence being the group which an individual identifies with. Tajfel and Turner (1979) has been instrumental in the development and ideation of the social identity theory which assumes that an individual identity is created by the group that they associate with. This paper will assess the different literatures that have been published on social identity theory and how they relate with the initial ideation and definition established by Tajfel and Turner (1979).

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Literature Review

According to Tajfel and Turner (1979), social identity is highly dependent on the individual perception and importance placed in a group that one belongs which influences their self-esteem and positivity based on the social comparisons that they can be able to make within the groups. Groups of belonging have a significant influence on the attitudes and behaviors attributed to the individuals within the in-group, which are common compared to the out-group. Social identity has been instrumental in developing the categorization, which is used to understand further the prejudice and cognitive processes that influence an individual tendency to belong to a group. The theory, according to Tajfel and Turner (1979), can be used in understanding the social stereotyping and prejudice and the intergroup relations which are informed by the individual and collective group identity. As such, the social identity theory helps in the understanding of how individual characters come to be based on the elements that individuals identify within a group that through cognitive can tell an individual identity.

Tajfel and Turner (1979) hold that social identity is a product of social categories and individual tendency to identify oneself with the groups which one share with common characteristics. As such, social status can be understood both cognitively and evaluative means because it is created by an individual self-concept based on the knowledge of a collective group membership where members share emotional attachment and value to belong together and share a similar experience. Therefore, the overall idea of the social identity theory is the understanding of the means through which the society is categorized in groups. The groups are essential to individuals and the society because members can derive value from these groups, which is critical towards the achievement alliance and connectivity between group members. Tajfel and Turner (1979) note that individuals can quickly establish distinct features from one group to another, which is used as a comparative tool for individual appraisal. The authors have remarkably contributed towards the understanding of the social identity in the intergroup and interpersonal characters. According to Kroger (1989), identity is the integration between a person and different contexts which can be reflected in the personal and the social identity. This confirms Tajfel and Turner (1979) theorization on the existence of social identity in groupings where people share secure emotional and value attachment to their groups.

Cognitive Processes in Identity Creation and Intergroup Behavior

Tajfel and Turner (1979) introduced the social identity theory with the aim of establishing the cognitive processes that influence the development of social identity and how it can affect intergroup behavior. The theory has been developed on three key elements, which include social identification, categorization, and comparison. To be able to ascribe to a particular social identity the members of a group are required to observe specific positive social status which is recognized by the group as its favorite social standing and abstain from the social reputation and characteristics of the other outer groups. Perceptual processes developed within groups are responsible for the creation of stereotypes and prejudices against certain groups, which was confirmed by the minimal studies that were conducted over the 1970s. Turner (1982) noted that when individuals were placed in groups, they developed attachment and favoritism towards those groups against the outside groups. This study was influential in confirming the overall power and influence that groups have towards individuals within the groups even in the absence of benefits and known history of belonging to the said groups. This can be confirmed by Kroger (1989), who noted that people at adolescence tend to belong to specific groups which significantly shapes their identities. According to Turner (1982), the individual comparison between groups increases their overall motivation to observe the positive social status, which is favored within the group.

Tajfel and Turner (1979) hold that the cognitive processes identified in social identity are mental processes which are instrumental in the creation of in-group or outgroup classifications. The social categorization is a necessary cognitive process which is used to understand one's social surrounding and helps to define people and groups of belonging. As such, Turner (1982) confirmed that people most often rely on social categorization than individual characteristics to define and identify people. This means that the group identification from a cognitive viewpoint is more significant compared to the individual based identification indicating that individuals obtain their identities from groups they associate within the society. The second most influential cognitive process in the social identity theory is the social identification that Tajfel and Turner (1979) used to identify an individual with a group. In this case, behaviors and traits within the group are shared by all the group members, which increase their attachment to the group and intergroup rivalry due to different value systems. The last cognitive process, according to Tajfel and Turner (1979), is the social comparison process which is instrumental in the comparison between different groups based on social standing and prestige. The social comparison cognitive process is helpful in the development and maintenance of self-esteem with people in groups that are of high social standing having higher self-esteem. The cognitive processes, according to Tajfel and Turner (1979), are instrumental in the development of out-group discrimination, which occurs due to the in-group favoritism and out-group discrimination. The stereotyping and prejudice further create this by the members of a group against another group.

Turner (1982) agreed with Tajfel (1978) that social categorization is the most significant cognitive process in the social identification due to its ability to create cognitive accentuation of similarities between people in a common group and differentiation of other people who belong to other groups. This means that personal identity is influenced by the cognitive accentuation of an individual, which is explained by their self-perception and stereotypical notions. This means that people share identity with those that they belong in the same group, and it is also instrumental in developing individual favoritism. As such, Kroger (1989) held that the social identity theory could be used to understand the group identification of young people at the adolescent age.

Social Identity Theoretical Foundation

Social identity theory is a social psychological theory that provides a different apprehending perspective of people's memberships in social groups (Kroger, 1989). It also expounds on how the individuals' behavior, social class/status, and self-judgment/esteem are affected by their in-groups. This is arrived at by analyzing individual-group and group to group interactions and comparison of the treatment members and non-members of the group accord to their fellow in-group members and the out-groups (Kroger, 1989). According to this theory, a person's character and social identity are defined by their social group memberships (Tajfel, 1978). Positive group relation results in the betterment of the members' self-esteem and change in mannerism to align with those of their group members. Social categorization theory, on the other hand, is closely related to the social identity theory in that one cannot be studied without the other (Tajfel, 1978). Tajfel (1978) and Turner (1982) both are in consensus that categorization involves the classification of people into different social groupings. Peoples' social identities are defined by their social group; thus, social categorization aids significantly in understanding and defining individuals (Turner, 1982). It is through social categorization that we learn how other people and individual behaviors are determined by the individual group's norms and values. Hence, categorization cannot be disjointed. The two theories are hence jointly expounded as the social identity approach. (Tajfel, 1978; Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner, 1982) claimed that members have a desire to evaluate their group positively and that they achieve positive evaluations through social comparisons with relevant other groups along valued dimensions. An individual maintains a positive social identity and self-esteem through in-group favoritism, positive distinction from the out-group, and, occasionally, out-group derogation.

Research on social identity and group conflict existed before the development of SIT (Adorno et al., 1950; Berkowitz, 1962). Early research, however, focused on patterns of individual prejudices and motivational sequences of intra-individual and inter-personal interaction. In contrast to the interpersonal research and theories that existed, Sheriff (1966) researched relationships between social groups, referred to by Campbell (1965) as realistic group conflict theory, which focused on group conflict and behavior, specifically discrimination towards an out-group. Building upon this previous research, Tajfel and Turner (1979) described three new processes related to social identities, which were social categorization, self-evaluation through social status, and intergroup social comparison. These ideas are interconnected in a coherent and testable framework that seeks to further explain various forms of intergroup conflict, social conflict, and social change (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). It is further clarified that, through social comparisons, individuals strive to maintain or achieve a positive social identity and that a positive social identity is based in no small extent on the favorable comparisons that can be made between the in-group and some relevant out-groups. In summary, the need for positive self-esteem motivates social comparisons to differentiate oneself from others in terms of positively valued group characteristics.

Turner (1982) established that social identity theory social groups create a collective identity and have an influence on their self-judgments. An example of its application is in a stigmatized group that enhance their esteem by viewing the members positively. Knowledge derived from this theory is applied in daily social lives, for instance, the low-class group in the society can improve their self-judgment by identifying collectively, and individuals can switch their groups by social change (Ellemers et al., 2002). Taking a classroom, for instance, the prefects, regular students, different basketball teams, poor and best performers are all different groups that inter-relate in the construction of social identities. Social identity is a person's self-definition based on the relevant group they are a part of. Individuals identify themselves as being members of certain groups that not only determi...

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