Social Identity Theory

Background and In-depth Explanation

  • Developed by Henry Tajfel in 1979
  • Proposed that the groups we belong to like the family, social class etc. are a big source of self esteem and pride for people and gives people a sense of social belonging.
  • To increase our self esteem and social standing he said that we seek to increase the status of the groups we belong to as well as decreasing the social status of groups we deem as opposing again to boost our self esteem.
  • To the do this we tend to divide people up into 'us' (thoose in the same group or thoose who share the  same view) and 'them' (thoose who either outright oppose us or just have different views). This processes is the first step required before conflict or prejudice occurs and is called social catergorisation.
  • Tajfel proposed that sterotyping (putting people into groups without actually knowing) is based on the normal cognitive tendency to place people and things into groups. By doing this we accentuate the: the differences between groups and the similarities of the things in the same group.
  • The way we categorize people menas we see the group we belong to as being different from the others and the members of the same group as being more similar to each other than they actually are. This leads to in-group, out-group thinking 
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  • Northern Ireland: Catholics – Protestants
  • Rwanda: Hutus and Tutsis
  • Yugoslavia: the Bosnians and Serbs
  • Germany: Jews and the Nazis
  • Politics: Labor and the Conservatives
  • Football: Liverpool and Man Utd
  • Gender: Males and Females
  • Social Class: Middle and Working Classes
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  • Tajfel said there were three processes in his theory that lead us to evaluating people as 'us' or 'them'
  • The first is Social Categorisation, this involvesputting people into certain groups to allow us to understand the social environment. 
  • Categories could be things like: Black, White, English, French, Christian, Muslim etc.
  • Doing this tells us things about people and help us act better in the social situation as we know more social context.
  • This can be seen by the fact certain people which we only see in certain circumstances like doctors and teachers can be odd to see in other situtions like shopping etc.
  • This works in reverse as well as we also assighn our selves to certain groups which allow us to learn thsings about ourselves.
  • The next stage is known as 'Social identification' this is when people belonging to a certain group adopt the udentity of that group, they do this by adopting the norms, values and behaviours of that group as well as things like clothing etc. This is the stage when a persons self esteem becomes tied in to the the group and its status directly affects its members self esteem and pride.
  • The last stage is 'Social Comparision' this is when groups begin to compare themselves to other groups that usally are similar to theirs, for instnc a rival football group.
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  • Comparision of groups is what leads to one group trying to decrease the status of another to boost its own status and therefore its members self esteem.
  • This comparsion stage is responsible for frition between groups that can lead to physical violence and deep rooted prejudice.
  • Tajfel pointed out that this was important to consider when looking at prejudice as conflict is not just caused by competing for resources like Sherif said and instead the sense of competing identities can play a large part.
  • In the end it is important to remember that membership of a group is not something artifical but is a vital part of the person and identity. 
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