How Diversity Influences Identity & Behavior in Psychology

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Diversity is a word we often hear and sometimes even use without really thinking about what it means. This lesson discusses some of the ways diversity can impact people's identity and behavior, particularly within psychology.

Defining Diversity

As someone with a lifelong interest in psychology, Deb has been thinking a lot lately about diversity. She knows that diversity can be understood in terms of the many ways humans are different from one another. Some of the categories most commonly associated with differences and diversity are race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, ability, education, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Deb knows, though, that it is also possible to think about diversity in many other ways.

Deb believes that a more diverse world is a richer and more beautiful one, but she also knows that diversity can lead to complexities and even conflict.

Diversity and Identity

Different kinds of diversity can have a profound impact on people's identity, or how we think about, conceive of, and define ourselves and our relationships to others.

Individuals

For many individuals, diversity and identity interact in ways that change and evolve throughout a person's life span. For instance, Deb has a client who was assigned the gender of 'male' at birth, but now identifies as 'genderqueer,' not really affiliated with either of the traditional genders in the male-female binary.

Deb also knows that individuals identify with their cultural and racial backgrounds to varying degrees, and that here is no right or wrong way for race or culture to influence a person's identity. For example, Deb is African-American, and it is very important for her to take pride in her history and the traditions associated with her racial identity. At the same time, she has many friends who are also African-American but do not think of this as a major part of their identity.

Groups

Deb also knows that belonging to groups or the choice to participate in different groups is influenced by diversity. Many of her gay and lesbian friends identify strongly as part of an LGBTQ community, where they get most of their emotional support. Deb also has many clients now who find a lot of social cohesiveness, or community belonging, in relation to the groups they identify with religiously.

At the same time, Deb knows that many groups are in turn diverse in one or more ways, and in fact it is impossible to produce an entirely homogeneous group. Deb goes to a church where everyone is part of the same religion, but within that identity they celebrate and work through differences in social class, race, and sexuality, among other things.

Diversity and Behavior

Deb also finds a lot to think about in the way diversity can impact individual and group behaviors.

Individuals

For instance, Deb has found that most of her friends who have a strong religious identity behave in ways that they learned from their religious traditions and value systems.

Deb also knows that cultural identity influences people's behavior because she reads about social orientation hypothesis, which states that cultures tend toward individualism or collectivism and that this tendency affects how members view their world. This orientation theory helps Deb understand the different ways that people from diverse backgrounds might behave when facing the same situation.

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