Social Identity Theory

Social Identity Theory (SIT) is one group of theories that share the assumption that prejudice can be explained by our tendency to identify ourselves as part of a group and to classify others in terms of whether they are a part of our group or another. This means we tend to make sharp judgements based on whether they are “one of us” or “one of them”. These are referred to the in-group (one in which the individual belongs to) and the out-group (one in which they do not). It was proposed by Tajfel and Turner based on a series of lab experiments known as minimal group studies.

The exact nature of the groups we see ourselves in varies widely according to our individual experience and culture, and our tendency to think of ourselves as belonging to groups is a fundamental part of human nature.

Groups that are formed on an arbitrary basis (the toss of a coin) are known as minimal groups because they have no common goals or attitudes. Even when people are assigned to groups on the toss of a coin, they still show ingroup preferences, rate their group as more likeable and as producing higher quality work. People in minimal groups tend to be more competitive towards the out-group than they would be as individuals.

To explain this in-group preference, Tajfel and Turner advanced social identity theory, claiming that a person’s identity has two parts, personal identity and social identity. Our personal identity derives from the knowledge we have of our self as an individual, and our social identity comes from the groups with whom we identify (friends, family). People’s self-esteem is affected by both identities, and we can boost our self-esteem by identifying ourselves with successful groups. This is especially important to those who have self-esteem from their own personal identity, perhaps because they were not greatly valued in their family or were made to feel a failure. According to social identity, one…


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