Social Identity Theory

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Social Identity Theory
Chapter 14
Social Psychology
■ What did the researchers find?
Self-reports and GSR measures revealed that participants in all three experiments were
significantly less upset by an anxiety-provoking experience (the death film or the threat
of shock) if they had first received esteem-building feedback about their previous test
■ What do the results mean?
The researchers concluded that their results support the notion that self-esteem can act
as a buffer against anxiety and other negative feelings. This conclusion would help
explain why people are so eager to maintain or enhance their self-esteem (Tesser, 2001):
We don’t like to feel anxious, and increased self-esteem reduces most people’s anxiety.
■ What do we still need to know?
These results certainly support terror management theory, but by themselves, they are
not broad enough to confirm all of its assumptions. For example, the theory also predicts that when people are sensitized to the threat of death, they will seek to protect
themselves by suppressing thoughts of death and also by doing things that increase the
approval and support of others in the society in which they live. Consistent with this
prediction, people have been found to make larger contributions to charity after they
have been made more aware of their own mortality (Jonas et al., 2002). Similarly, dramatic increases in volunteering for charity work occurred after the events of September 11, 2001 (Penner, Dovidio, et al., 2005).
But which strategies are people most likely to use, and why? Are some strategies
more or less likely to be adopted at different times in a person’s life or among people
in certain cultures? And what forms of self-esteem are most important in different cultures? So far, most of the research on terror management theory has been done in individualistic cultures such as North America, where self-esteem is largely based on personal accomplishments. However, terror management theory has also been supported
by preliminary studies in Japan, aboriginal Australia, and other collectivist cultures in
which feelings of self-worth tend to be more closely tied to the performance and status
of the groups to which people belong (Halloran & Kashima, 2004; Heine, Harihara, &
Niiya, 2002). It will take many more experiments to test all the predictions derived from
the theory.
Social Identity Theory
Stop reading for a moment, and complete the following sentence: I am a(n)
. Some people fill in the blank using characteristics such as “hard
doing worker,” “good
sport,” or some other aspect of their personal identity.
However, many others identify themselves using a word or phrase that refers to their
nationality, gender, or religion (Lee & Yoo, 2004). These latter responses reflect social
identity, our beliefs about the groups to which we belong. Our social identity is therefore a part of our self-concept (Tropp & Wright, 2001; Vignoles et al., 2006).
Our social or group identity permits us to feel part of a larger whole (Ashmore et al.,
2004). Its importance is seen in the pride that people feel when a member of their
family graduates from college or when a local team wins a big game (Burris,
Branscombe, & Klar, 1997). In wars between national, ethnic, or religious groups, individuals sacrifice and sometimes die for the sake of their group identity. A group identity is also one reason people donate money to those in need, support friends in a crisis,
and display other helping behaviors. As we shall see later, however, defining ourselves
in terms of a group identity can foster an “us versus them” mentality that sets the
stage for prejudice, discrimination, intergroup conflict, and even terrorism (Brewer &
Pierce, 2005).
social identity
The beliefs we hold
about the groups to which we belong.
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