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Social Identity Theory

Henri Tajfel and John Turner, 1979

In 1979 Henri Tajfel and John Turner proposed a Social Identity Theory which held that there are three cognitive processes relevant to a persons being part of an in-group, or of an out-group. Such group membership being, depending upon circumstances, possibly associable with the appearance of prejudice and discrimination related to such perceived group membership.
Social Categorisation
The process of deciding which group you or "another person or persons" belongs to. At its most basic and non-involved level "any group will do" and no necessity is seen for conflict between groups.

Social Identification
The processes by which you or "another person or persons" identify with an in-group more overtly. The norms and attitudes of other members within that group being seen as compatible with your own or worthy of emulation by yourself, or as compatible with those of "another person or persons" or seen as being by open to emulation by "another person or persons".

Social Comparison
Your own self-concept or the social concept of "another person or persons" becomes closely meshed in with perceptions of group membership. Self-esteem, or the estimate of "another person or persons" is enhanced or detracted from by perceptions of how in-groups and out-groups are held to behave or are held to be able to perform or to rate in society.

flow chart showing theorised social self-categorisation, social identification and social comparison


According to Social Identity Theory, social comparison with the outgroup is a decisive element in the process by which social categorization can turn into the creation of positive ingroup distinctiveness.

Although much broader in its scope, Social Identity Theory is closely associated with earlier experiments conducted by Henri Tajfel and others into the so-called Minimal Group Paradigm.

  This paradigm, where a number of assumptions, concepts, values or practices were accepted in order to better allow a view of reality in relation to the onset of human group formation and of the appearance of discriminatory behaviours was originally planned to provide a baseline in order to test subsequently the necessary and sufficient conditions for in-group favoritism and out-group derogation.
Intergroup behaviour was analyzed in a situation of "mere categorization" such as where people involved as subjects in this research were told that they were individually "overestimators" or "underestimators" of the number of dots in a display.
It was found that even under very flimsy and apparently baseless assigned social categorisation into two distinct, and previously "unheard of" social categories, in-group favoritism and out-group derogation occured in the distribution, by the research subjects, of "rewards for participation" in the study.
This held true even where there was neither intra-group or inter-group interaction nor any opportunity to directly fulfil self-interests through such allocations or evaluations of such "rewards for participation". The finding in these earlier studies, which have often been replicated by other researchers, show that under even under meaningless social categorisation conditions in-group favoritism and out-group derogation tended to routinely occur.

Social Identity Theory offers an explanation for the so-called "mere categorization effect" by postulating a need for positive social identity.
By treating or evaluating in-group members more favourably than out-group members, social identity can be ensured or enhanced.

It is assumed that the self-concept comprises two components, personal and social identity. A person may be held to inter-act with wider society simultaneously as an individual and as a member of any groups he or she might feel that they belonged to. This might even well extend to an individual feeling for any trials, tribulations or triumps which he or she perceives as being experienced by any groups he or she might feel that they belonged to.
Such assumptions allow Social Identity Theory to be extended into an area known as Conflict Theory and hence into the realms of poitics and statemanship.

It seems that Tajfel accepted that we live in a world alive with the possibility of prejudice or discrimination aligned with groups and group perceptions, nevertheless Tajfel saw groups as being positive in that they could well give those subject to prejudice or discrimination aligned with groups and group perceptions the means, in co-operation with fellow group members, of seeking to improve their position as individuals and as a group.

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It is widely known that Plato, pupil of and close friend to Socrates, accepted that Human Beings have a " Tripartite Soul " where individual Human Psychology is composed of three aspects - Wisdom-Rationality, Spirited-Will and Appetite-Desire.

Plato, Socrates and Shakespeare endorse a Tripartite Soul view of Human Nature. Platos' Republic