We all have conceptual thoughts about who we are and what our own identity is. Those same thoughts can apply to our self concepts when we look at the groups we belong to and our own internal self identity. In this lesson we will explore these aspects and delve deeper into social identity theory.
Two Aspects of Social Identity Theory
I need you to do a little exercise with me. Please hang in there, as it will help us to understand the two basic parts of social identity theory, and help us develop a starting point that will help us understand the concept.
First, take a moment to think about the self-conception you have about yourself. Think about your personal skills and abilities and how they shape how you view who you are. The feeling you get when you look at who you are as it relates to these aspects and how that makes you feel about yourself.
Next, take a moment to picture yourself with a group of people that have not succeeded as a team. Think about how you feel about being in that team. Next, I want you to picture yourself with a team or a group that has succeeded. Think about how you feel being part of a team like that.
The reason for this exercise is that generally it's understood that people think poorly of themselves when they are on a team that did not succeed, and better about themselves when they think of being on a team that did succeed.
What you have just done in these two exercises is work through the parts of social identity theory, which states that an individual's self-conception is based on a) personal or self-identity, and b) collective identity. The personal aspect or self-identity refers to our personal qualities (our skills and abilities), while the collective aspect deals with all the qualities we think we have from being part of a group.
Variables in Social Identity Theory
It would be easy to say that each of us develops our social identity solely on the individual and collective aspects of this theory, but it's a little more complicated than that. There are additional pieces of this puzzle that help us understand and work through our social identity. You see, it can and does change, and there are mechanisms in place to help us with that changing viewpoint, driven mostly by how we rationalize the perspective that we have.
First, we have similarity, or more specifically, our ability or desire to exaggerate the similarities between us or our group, and exaggerate the differences between us or other groups. This concept helps us rationalize our internal perspective compared against others. Possibly the best way to think about this is how sports fans identify with their teams. Fans that follow a team that just won the Super Bowl could somehow match their characteristics to that of the winning team, while also exaggerating the characteristics of the losing team and their fans. 'See, us New York Giants fans never quit like Patriots fans'.
Taking this from a different viewpoint, we have a distinctiveness, or how unique a person feels they are or how distinctive they think the group is. People, at times, strive to be unique or want to belong to clubs or groups that are unique, exclusive and thus distinctive. This gives the individual a sense of pride that they stand alone from (or in some ways above) the people around them.
Think of members of a country club and how they feel distinctive because they belong to an exclusive group. As it relates to social identity theory, a person can even strive to be distinct within the group they are in, so it's not limited to just individual-to-individual or group-to-group. This same aspect also ties to status as it directly relates to how a person or group is viewed in a socially stratified setting.
Finally, we have uncertainty reduction. People want their environments to be predictable, and by joining groups a person identifies with, they are facilitating predictability. If, for you, skydiving was something you are very uncertain about, you probably would not join a skydiving club because the uncertainty would be extremely high and there would be no sense of predictability.
Social Identity Theory and Group Selection
We can see now that, based on the social identity theory and the aspects we have talked about here, this theory and its fundamental aspects helps us to understand why people join groups. You may have thought prior to this lesson that people joined groups because they simply wanted to, and to some extent that is true, but there are underlying facets that help the person to realize what group is right for them and where they think they belong.
Some of those feelings might evolve over time, like our Super Bowl example. Your team cannot win every year, thus you cannot make the same association of being a winner year after year. Some may be present at the very beginning, like wanting to join a country club, so you can feel more distinctive and be in more of an exclusive group.
Social identity theory has been studied for years with some of the most recent advancements made in 1999 and 2006. It stands to reason that as society changes, so will the aspects of this theory. It can be argued that in 1999, someone who joined a group to conserve natural resources may not have been viewed as having status or being distinctive, but that cannot be said now.
What society views as unique, upscale or exclusive will change, and the theory will change and adapt with it. Thus, similarity, our ability or desire to exaggerate the similarities between us or our group and exaggerate the differences between us or other groups, distinctiveness, how unique a person feels they are or how distinct they think their group is, and uncertainty reduction, people wanting their environments to be predictable, will change with it.
After finishing this video lesson, you should be able to:
- Identify the social identity theory
- Define similarity in our desire to belong
- Recall distinctiveness in the need to be unique
- Recognize that uncertainty reduction proves social identity will change with time