Social Identity Theory

Social identity theory is a theory that helps us understand people’s behaviors and association within our societies. It predicts behaviors among certain groups of people based on the different status they portray. Henri Tafjei argued that it is the groups we belonged into that shapes our character. It is from these groups that we either develop a sense of pride and self-esteem. Our feelings are directly linked to the groups that people belong to, and members always feel proud, happy or excited when they can upgrade their group status. Psychologists define social identity as an individual’s sense of who they are in the group that they belong to. Tajfel (1971) proposed that these groups played a significant role in determining the character of an individual. Intergroup behavior, on the other hand, refers to how individuals in a particular group perceive or feel about those in another group. From the two definitions, we will realize that social identity theory is relevant to intergroup behavior because these behaviors are psychologically linked to social identity. Social identity theory covers issues of discrimination, prejudice, social conflicts, harmony, stigmatization, favorism among many other problems, which are very common in intergroup behavior. There are cases of people grouping themselves as Christians, or Muslims among many other religions because of their beliefs. They will always treat another group depending on what their belief recommends. There are some cases where we have the wealthy and the underprivileged and will always treat each other differently. These are just examples that indicate that indeed the social identity theory is relevant to intergroup behavior.

The components of social identity theory

The theory was meant to explain how individuals position themselves in society. Social categorization, social comparison, and social identification are the three psychological processes that help us understand the theory well. People exist in different groupings and will always identify themselves with a group rather than individuals. Teachers, lawyers, and doctors are just but examples of groups that people belong. These categories tend to have some defined characteristics that define people as a group rather than an individual (McKinley, Mastro & Warber, 2014). Social comparison, on the other hand, refers to a tendency of people determining the value and social standards of a specific group. Teachers, for example, are seen as people with high standards compared to garbage collectors while a pastor may be perceived as being socially upright than a drunkard. Social identification reflects the impression that people generally do not view social situations as detached observers. It is the sense of who they are and how they interact with others that are typically implicated in the way they see others.

The motivation for social behavior

Social behavior is determined by an individual’s character as well as the conduct of a group he or she belongs. Both the interpersonal and intergroup behaviors determine the social behavior of people. In most cases people will prefer maintaining a positive image in their groups; hence they are inclined to seek out positively value attitudes and traits that can be used to characterize their group. Such an inclination may make them focus more on the characteristics of the other groups that are less favorable. Members of one group may also downplay the importance of positive out-groups traits to emerge on the top and declare itself as having the most superior values (McKinley, Mastro & Warber, 2014). It is at this stage where favorism occurs and causes a difference in the distribution of resources as well as access to resources since it will depend with which group has the upper hand over what is being distributed or acquired. The motivation to establish a social identity that is positive is believed to lie in the intergroup conflict (Tajfel, 1974). The conflict arises when members of the disadvantaged group strive to improve their status while the advantaged group target to protect and maintain their privileged position.

Individuals are however not constrained to a single group, and they are free agents who can move from one group the other. People’s outcomes and opportunities are therefore linked to their talents, their choices in life and achievements rather than the ethnic origin they belong to, according to the individual-mobility belief system. The social change belief system, on the contrary, believes that changes in social relations depend on groups modifying their positions related to each other. Status security, in this case, is dependent on the perceived stability and legality of real status differences among groups. Existing intergroup differences in status may however appear less legal when subjects are subject to change. On the contrary, when the legitimacy of status differences of groups that exist is questioned, the perceived stability of such relations is likely to be demoralized. , therefore, determine people’s character as they pursue a social identity which is more favorable.

Individual mobility, social creativity, and social competition are then three strategies that social identity theory distinguishes. Individual movement permits individuals to chase personal improvement irrespective of the group’s position. Individual mobility is the reason why we sometimes notice that people might exist in a similar group but may tend to behave in a different way as they tend to improve their status. Social competition refers to a situation where members of group work in unison to enhance their status. They combine efforts and work towards a similar objective as a way of improving their joint outcome. Social creativity infers that persons modify their perceptions of the in-groups standing. This is a strategy that can be achieved by introducing the alternative dimensions of comparison to emphasize ways in which the group they belong to is unique compared to other groups. There is another possibility as well where persons will compare their group with the other groups to justify that theirs is indeed better. Social creativity strategy alters people’s perception of their group’s standing in society rather than adjusting the objective outcomes. It is a strategy that is associated with cognitive functioning and can help preserve an in-group identity even if it has low status.

Identity Threat

Social identity and social class

Members in groups may feel threatened by the activities of others. As they focus on improving their group, we realize that they tend to step on each other’s’ interest thus causing a conflict. The group that identifies itself with being wealthy in a society is in most cases seen to mistreat the underprivileged. While the poor are characterized by low wages, inadequate housing, and generally poor living conditions with little education. The lavish use these people to maintain or even improve their standards. There are many cases where the wealthy employ the poor who provide labor cheaply. The money that they earn is not enough to maintain a standard living; hence their lifestyle is mapped with a lot of struggles. Even when these people work hard to improve, their efforts are always suppressed by the rich who want to maintain their position. Acquiring education among the less privileged is a problem in most societies. The many responsibilities that come with the little earned money make it hard to spend in school. Even in cases where governments make the education free for everyone to access, it is evident that the free services will always be of low quality and those who can afford luxuries tend to go for private institutions where they can gain a quality education. There is a significant disparity in how resources are acquired and the minority who are the poor always get peanuts. Most opportunities are preserved for the rich, and many people from poor backgrounds struggle for a chance. Even those who strain and get an education may find themselves in a sorry state as they struggle to get a good job in the society. People will always look at what they can or cannot afford and group themselves as either rich or poor. In every society, such groupings exist, even in areas where people seem to be on the same level. People will always try to look for the little differences that distinguish them from the rest, and that is the source of conflict in every society. The issue of inequality and oppression is depicted as people tend to maintain their identity in the community even if it means that others have to suffer. There are many instances where the poor feel discouraged to fight and come up with ideas and expressions that make them feel better about themselves. Sometimes you will hear the underprivileged talk of having peace is more important than having a lot of money and such like phrases. It is an indication that people will always come up with ideas to make their group look better irrespective of the low status it may have. Even though it should be noted that this only happens when the less privileged feel defeated and unable to put up with the competition due to the many disadvantages otherwise poverty is negatively depicted in our societies and no one would want to be associated with being poor. In most cases, the poor might engage in unlawful activities such as stealing to improve their status.  It is just that society has a way of dividing people into those who have, and those who do not have. The division is, however, something that we cannot entirely avoid. As we had discussed, groups are responsible for shaping individual character, and in most cases, you will find that the poor are humble and submissive thus adapting to their position in the society. The wealthy, are in most cases arrogant because they feel they have the upper hand in the community.

Social identity and Racism

Racism is another example that depicts identity conflicts among individuals of different races. An indication that social status is relevant to inter-groups behavior. Race is defined as human groupings based on shared physical or social qualities into categories view as distinct by society. The term race has over the years changed and is currently used to refer to physical traits. Now, race refers to a person’s physical characteristics such as skin, eye, and hair color and bone structure. As people try to identify themselves with a particular race because of their features, we see how these issue has caused discrimination and prejudice among different groups. ‘White supremacy’ is a fallacy that is associated with the racial identity that has brought a lot of conflicts. In the US for example, issues of white racial supremacy and black race oppression are pervasive. It has been an issue that has affected them since slavery times and continues to be a problem despite efforts to create awareness of equality among all race. The whites have identified themselves with being great and bright, and white children are not expected to be defeated in class or in other activities that need an individual to use intelligence. The whole society seems to have been affected by the white supremacy notion to the extent that they get surprised when an opposite of their expectation happens. The blacks are one of the minority groups in the US nation, and they face a lot of challenges because of the low status they have in the societies. The minority groups always respond by being hostile to the race that feels superior. Crime prevails in states densely populated by the African American. Cities such as Mississippi, Michigan and Florida experience a lot of crime such as theft and drug dealers. As these people strive to improve their social status, they tend to use means that are illegal. The fact that it has become difficult for them to use the right procedure to improve their status, they tend to find a way that will help them acquire resources. Robbery with violence is a crime associated with these group as they strive to earn a living since most of them struggle for a living (Mackie & Smith, 2018). They engage in drug deals, selling drugs to people especially the whites who have money to spend on such luxuries. Most of these activities that they engage in to improve their status has put them in a bad light. When a white is walking in a lonely path and a stranger who happens to be white walks beside them, they always feel safe, but it is different when it is a white, and a black since whites always feel threatened by the blacks. The criminal behavior has been generalized, and every individual from a black race is thought to be a threat to a white’s security.  The criminal activities, however, make the minority groups feel superior about themselves. Seeing the superior suffer in their hands gives them a good feeling hence they feel significant in society. Police brutality is more prevent in the black race as they are treated harshly. This is because of the notion that they are criminals and the chances of being detained or shot due to false accusations are high. We have experienced many cases where police have killed people of the black race for suspecting them, courts have become judgmental of who is the wrong or right when it comes to casing individuals of these two different races. Social identity theory in these cases can explain why crime is prevalent among the minority or why they end up being accused of falsely.

Social identity and politics

In politics, people are either in support of one party or the other depending on their ideology. The ideas often describe a party it presents to the people. A race plays a significant role in determining the politics of America. People tend to identify themselves with a political party; they feel it addresses their needs. One group uses the weakness of the other group’s ideology to emphasize its importance over the other. While the whites’ interest is to continue dominating, blacks need ideas that will redeem them from oppression, poverty, and prejudice. Party identification is a psychological affinity for one party over the other, and it will always influence who controls the country. Party positions on racial issues help individuals to identify themselves with their desired parties as they take competing positions with each other. Individuals are divided into the Democrats and the Republicans, and their political stand on racial issues mainly determines people’s support for these parties. Other parts of the world also experience these classifications of people in terms of the political party they belong to. Political conflict is a universal issue in the world but all these results due to people classifying themselves as belonging to a certain group and undermining the other. As they compete, each party wants to top the list which results in conflict. In countries where the constitution is not taken seriously might even result in bloodshed. Rwanda, for example, is an East African country that has experienced bold shed due to political differences. With the absence of strict rules to guide operations such as the constitution, things can get out of hand due to these differences that exist among groups of people (Mackie & Smith, 2018). Sometimes it is hard to accept defeat or a group admitting that it is unpopular, that is the reason why sometimes politics is characterized by too much violence instead of bringing solutions to a nation’s problems.

Social identity and stigma management

As people identify themselves with a particular group, there will always emerge a group that will dominate over the others. Sometimes the humiliated individuals of a specific group might come up with ways to manage the social stigma they are experiencing. Fabrication is one of the strategies that can be used to handle it. It refers to purposefully presenting false information about yourself as a way of hiding the original identity (Perozzo et al. 2016). Some can conceal information about themselves to avoid people from knowing too much about them while some will masquerade as individuals of another different group to enjoy the privileges accorded with belonging to the group. It will be difficult to tell that these people are going through an issue as they will try as much as possible to hide it from others.

On the contrary, there are those that will reveal their stigma by talking and discussing it to everyone. The differentiating strategy tends to disclose people’s shame and how they affect them and differentiate them from others. Such an approach tries to deal with the ill treatments by presenting their identity as just crucial like the rest. Normalizing the stigma, on the other hand, involves revealing the shame but making it look like it is a non-issue. Such s strategy makes the affected accept their position in society and feel like it is just the way things were meant to be. Researchers have pointed out that the approach helps individuals manage their stigma after they have disclosed their real identity.



The essay clearly shows that social identity theory is very relevant in explaining intergroup behavior. Groups have a significant impact on people behavior and shape how they behave. Society has a way of grouping people, and sometimes it happens unconsciously. It is an issue we cannot avoid because it exists everywhere. Grouping also takes place among family members as they try to identify themselves with the best values in society. How an individual from a group treats an individual from a different group depends on the group’s perception towards the other group. The reason why some groups are more radical than others depends majorly on how they decide to deal with their stigma. As individuals identify themselves with certain groups, they end up being on the privileged or the underprivileged side which shapes their behaviors. Shame is associated with the undermined minority, but the strategy they chose to use in managing the unfair treatments determine their character as either peaceful or aggressive. It should, however, be realized that people are not constrained to belong to a particular group for the rest of their lives. They have the freedom to move from one group to the other depending on the change of ideology and status. When their status change they automatically switch to a different group.


McKinley, C. J., Mastro, D., & Warber, K. M. (2014). Social identity theory as a framework for understanding the effects of exposure to positive media images of self and other on intergroup outcomes. International Journal of Communication, 8, 20.

Tajfel, H. (1974). Social identity and intergroup behavior. Information (International Social Science Council), 13(2), 65-93.

Tajfel, H., Billig, M. G., Bundy, R. P., & Flament, C. (1971). Social categorization and intergroup behavior. European Journal of Social Psychology, 1(2), 149-178.

Perozzo, C., de la Sablonnière, R., Auger, E., & Caron‐Diotte, M. (2016). Social identity change in response to discrimination. British Journal of Social Psychology, 55(3), 438-456.

Mackie, D. M., & Smith, E. R. (2018). Intergroup emotions theory: Production, regulation, and modification of group-based emotions. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 58, pp. 1-69). Academic Press.


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