The Theory Of Social Identity: Characteristics And Postulates

Social Identity Theory

In Social Psychology, The Theory of Social Identity (SIT) was a fundamental theory for this field of psychology which served as a precedent for the development of new research and theoretical currents linked to group behavior and interpersonal relationships.

Here we will learn what this theory consists of and what its most important postulates are.

Origin of Social Identity Theory

Henry Tajfel began his work on categorical perception in the 1950s Later, with some collaborators, he developed the minimal group experimental paradigm.

This paradigm revealed the effect of mere categorization, that is, how groups develop group discrimination behaviors just for the fact of receiving the premise that they belong to “X” group and not another.

Turner and Brown, in 1978, coined the term Social Identity Theory to refer to the descriptions and ideas that Tajfel had used to explain the results of his research.

Social identity and personal identity

The fundamental idea of ​​Social Identity Theory is that An individual’s membership in certain groups or social categories provides important aspects for the subject’s individual identity That is, our membership in groups and our relationship with them largely determines who we are individually, that is, they influence our personal identity.


Tajfel stated that A person’s self-concept is largely shaped by their social identity This is “the knowledge that an individual has that he/she belongs to certain social groups along with the emotional and value significance that said membership has for him/her.” (Tajfel, 1981).

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In his initial formulations, the author proposed that a person’s social behavior varies along a unidimensional continuum delimited by two extremes: the intergroup (when the behavior is determined by belonging to different groups or social categories) and the interpersonal (when Behavior is determined by personal relationships with other people and by the personal characteristics of each person).

In the Theory of Social Identity it was also postulated that there is an individual tendency to achieve positive self-esteem This is satisfied in the intergroup context through the maximization of the differences between the ingroup (one’s own group) and the outgroup (the “other” group) in the facets that positively reflect the ingroup or that favor it.

The social comparison

Through social comparison carried out on different facets, the ingroup will be differentiated from possible outgroups As a result of this, the principle of accentuation is born, which consists of increasing intergroup differences, especially in the facets in which the ingroup stands out positively.

Thus, if the group itself bases its comparisons with the outgroup on facets that are positively valued, the perception of superiority will be generated in said comparison In this way, the person will acquire a positive distinctiveness and consequently a positive social identity will be generated in them (and in the group), compared to the outgroup.

If social comparison causes negative results for the person, they will feel dissatisfaction that will promote the activation of mechanisms to counteract it. In this way, you will develop different forms of intergroup behavior aimed at obtaining a positive social identity.

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Strategies to obtain a positive social identity

Tajfel raised two types of strategies to reduce said dissatisfaction and increase positive social identity Let’s see them:

1. Social mobility

It consists of the person redefining their categorical membership to become a member of the higher status group. It appears when there is a belief that the barriers between social categories are permeable (you can move from one category to another or from a lower status to a higher one).

2. Social change

It is about people’s attempt to develop, together with their ingroup, strategies to obtain a positive reevaluation of it. It appears when considering impermeable intergroup barriers (you cannot move from one category to another).

2.1. Social creativity

It is part of the strategy of social change These are three specific strategies: look for new facets of comparison, redefine the values ​​given to certain facets and change the outgroup with whom we compare ourselves. It appears when intergroup relationships are subjectively perceived as secure (legitimate and stable).

2.2. Social competition

It is another strategy of social change. It is about trying to outdo or surpass the higher status group in the dimension that is valued by both (that is, “compete” with him). It appears when the person perceives the comparison between groups as unsafe.

Later theories

Subsequent to the Theory of Social Identity, Turner and his collaborators complemented their postulates with their model of social identification (Turner, 1982) and, later, with the Theory of Self-Categorization of the Self (TAC) (Turner, Hogg, Oaks, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987).

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