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Social identity is the portion of an individual’s self-concept derived from perceived membership in a relevant social group. Social identity theory is described as a theory that predicts certain intergroup behaviours on the basis of perceived group status differences, the perceived legitimacy and stability of those status differences, and the perceived ability to move from one group to another. Henri Tajfel suggests that soldiers of opposing armies, fighting outside of view, is an illustrative example of behaviour at the extreme intergroup end of the intergroup-interpersonal continuum. Social identity theory states that social behavior will vary along a continuum between interpersonal behavior and intergroup behaviour.
Completely interpersonal behaviour would be behaviour determined solely by the individual characteristics and interpersonal relationships that exists between only two people. The authors of social identity theory state that purely interpersonal or purely intergroup behaviour is unlikely to be found in realistic social situations. Rather, behaviour is expected to be driven by a compromise between the two extremes. A key assumption in social identity theory is that individuals are intrinsically motivated to achieve positive distinctiveness.
That is, individuals “strive for a positive self-concept”. Both the interpersonal-intergroup continuum and the assumption of positive distinctiveness motivation arose as outcomes of the findings of minimal group studies. Tajfel and colleagues as an example of the cognitive creativity of low-status groups in the face of stable intergroup relations. Building on the above components, social identity theory details a variety of strategies that may be invoked in order to achieve positive distinctiveness. The individual’s choice of behaviour is posited to be dictated largely by the perceived intergroup relationship. It is predicted that under conditions where the group boundaries are considered permeable individuals are more likely to engage in individual mobility strategies. Where group boundaries are considered impermeable, and where status relations are considered reasonably stable, individuals are predicted to engage in social creativity behaviours.
Here, low-status ingroup members are still able to increase their positive distinctiveness without necessarily changing the objective resources of the ingroup or the outgroup. Here an ingroup seeks positive distinctiveness via direct competition with the outgroup in the form of ingroup favoritism. The term ‘social identity theory’ achieved academic currency only in the late 1970s, but the basic underlying concepts associated with it had emerged by the early twentieth century. Loyalty to the group, sacrifice for it, hatred and contempt for outsiders, brotherhood within, warlikeness without,—all grow together, common products of the same situation. Men of an others-group are outsiders with whose ancestors the ancestors of the we-group waged war. Each group nourishes its own pride and vanity, boasts itself superior, exalts its own divinities, and looks with contempt on outsiders. Thus, social categorization is still conceived as a haphazardly floating ‘independent variable’ which strikes at random as the spirit moves it.
No links are made or attempted, between the conditions determining its presence and mode of operation, and its outcomes in widely diffused commonalities of social behaviour. Why, when and how is social categorisation salient or not salient? Continued study into the relationship between social categorization and ingroup favoritism has explored the relative prevalences of the ingroup favoritism vs. Social identities are a valued aspect of the self, and people will sacrifice their pecuniary self-interest to maintain the self-perception that they belong to a given social group. Social identity theory proposes that people are motivated to achieve and maintain positive concepts of themselves. Some researchers, including Michael Hogg and Dominic Abrams, thus propose a fairly direct relationship between positive social identity and self-esteem. Some social identity theorists, including John Turner, consider the self-esteem hypothesis as not canonical to social identity theory.
In fact, the self-esteem hypothesis is argued to be conflictual with the tenets of the theory. In what has been dubbed the Positive-Negative Asymmetry Phenomenon, researchers have shown that punishing the out-group benefits self-esteem less than rewarding the in-group. From this finding it has been extrapolated that social identity theory is therefore unable to deal with bias on negative dimensions. It has been posited that social identity theory suggests that similar groups should have an increased motivation to differentiate themselves from each other. Social identity theory has been criticised for having far greater explanatory power than predictive power. Some researchers interpret social identity theory as drawing a direct link between identification with a social group and ingroup favoritism.
The significance of the social identity concept for social psychology with reference to individualism, interactionism and social influence”. An integrative theory of intergroup conflict”. The social psychology of intergroup relations. The social identity theory of intergroup behaviour”. Some current issues in research on social identity and self-categorization theories”. The social identity perspective today: An overview of its defining ideas”. Choice of comparisons in intergroup settings: the role of temporal information and comparison motives”.
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