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Social Identity Theory

- theoretical †framework developed by Tajfel

SIT is based on 4 interrelated concepts:
- social categorization
- social identity
- social comparison
- positive distinctiveness

Main studies:
- Cialdini et al. (1976)
- Tajfel et al. (1971)


SIT Concepts: social categorization

divides the social environment into in-groups and out-groups

In-groups show:
- ethnocentrism
- stereotypical thinking
- self-serving biases



similar to SSB but the self-serving effect applies to everyone we perceive as in-group members


SIT Concepts: social identity

- how we think of ourselves according to our membership of social groups
- Turner (1982): it's different from personal identity as personal identity is how we label our personality
- when establishing relationships with members of different groups, the social identity can influence our behavior


SIT Concepts: social comparison

- our social identity influences how we feel about ourselves
- to maintain and build up self-esteem, we seek positive social identities
- we continuously compare our in-groups with relevant out-groups and usually conclude that our in-group is superior


SIT Concepts: positive distinctiveness

- occurs when we establish superiority of in-group over out-groups
- we make sure that our social identities (and therefore our self-esteem) are positive enough


Cialdini et al. (1976) - Overview

- observed college football supporters
- after their college team won, supporters were more likely to be seen wearing college clothing
- vice versa for after a loss
- supports the notion of positive distinctiveness as the supporters wanted to be associated with a positive social group (a winning team)


Tajfel et al. (1971) - Process

- British schoolboys were randomly grouped
- participants were informed that their groups were according to a preference for Klee or Kandinsky paintings
- with knowledge of which groups they belonged to, the boys worked individually to give points to both in-group and out-group members
- they were not allowed to award points to themselves


Tajfel et al. (1971) - Findings and Conclusion

- participants showed ingroup favoritism: strong tendency to award more points to in-group members
- category accentuation effect/positive distinctiveness: some would give up point gains for their in-group just to make sure there was a difference in points between in-group and out-group
- this supports the notion of social identity
- social identity was still established despite the arbitrary method used to form groups
- the boys still regarded themselves as belonging to a group even when they were working individually


Tajfel et al. (1971) - evaluation

- supports SIT
- showed formation and features of SIT
- lab study: clear determinism
- despite the arbitrary method to determine groups, participants still showed characteristics described by SIT
- controlled environment minimized chances of confounding variables

- sample bias: all participants were male schoolboys from the same country
- boys may have misinterpreted the study as some sort of competitive game
- lab study: low ecological validity
- reductionist: simplistic reduction of a complex psychological phenomenon, focusing just on minimal groups and performance of a simple experimental task


strengths of SIT

- empirical support
- raises the idea that intergroup conflict is not necessary for discrimination to occur

can explain behaviors such as:
- ethnocentrism
- ingroup favoritism
- positive distinctiveness
- stereotyping
- conformity


limitations of SIT

- Rubin and Hewstone (1998) against self-esteem explanation: increase in self-esteem associated with out-group discrimination is too short-lived to have long-lasting effects on how in-group members view themselves
- SIT describes but does not predict human behaviour
- SIT does not explain why in some cases our personal identity is stronger than the group identity
- SIT fails to take the environment into consideration
- generally, experimental methods used to study SIT have low ecological validity

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