What is the Social Identity Theory?
Social identity theory is the idea that we, as humans, have the need to categorize ourselves into in-groups ‘us’ and out-groups ‘them’ in order to give ourselves a positive social identity to protect and enhance our self-esteem.
Empirical research done to support this theory
Tajfel H. (1970)
One of the most well known studies done to support social identity theory was the minimal group paradigm done by Tajfel and his colleges. The aim of this experiment was to see if putting people into groups were enough to create in-group favoritism and out-group discrimination with the participants.
For this study there were two separate experiments that Tajfel and his colleges carried out. In the first one, they split up a group of British schoolboys into two groups, assigning them into the groups at random pick. However, the schoolboys thought that they were split into the two groups on the basis of their visual judgments, which was assessed in a visual judgment test they had just done beforehand. They were then given a task, which involved rewarding points and giving penalties to the other boys based on a visual test. They did not know the identity of the person they were either assigning points to or giving penalties to, all they knew was if they were in their group (their in-group) or the other group (their out-group). They were not allowed to give themselves points. The boys were given three different types of options where they had to give or penalize points. The first type of option was to reward points and penalize points between two other participants from the same group (their in-group). The second type of option was to reward points and penalize points from two other participants from the other group (out-group). The third type of option was to reward points and penalize points between one participant from their group and one participant from the other group.
In the second experiment, a new group of boys were used as subjects. They were split into two groups at random. However, they thought that they were split into the two groups based on their preferences between two different paintings. The task for the boys in this experiment was also based on rewarding points to their own in-group or the out-group. The main difference between this experiment and the first one was the point rewarding system. The rewarding system in this experiment allowed the psychologists to investigate three different variables. One of the variables was the maximum joint profit where the subject was given the option to give the largest reward to members of both groups. Another one of the variables was the largest possible reward to in-group, where the subject was given the option to choose the largest reward for the member from their in-group regardless of the reward to the other boy in the out-group. The other variable was maximum difference, where the subject could choose the option that had the largest possible difference in reward between their in-group and out-group (in favor of their own in-group).
The results from these experiments clearly demonstrated that simple categorization with people was enough to create in-group favoritism and out-group discrimination. In both experiments, the large majority of the subjects assigned more points to their in-group rather than their out-group. The second experiment also showed that the most important thing for most of the subjects was to maximize the difference between the points from their in-group and the out-group, even if it meant not getting as many points overall.
Tajfel’s explanation for this is the Social Identity Theory. The boys gave more points to the members from their group (in-group), and fewer points to the boys in the other group (out-group) so that they would be part of the ‘better’ group. This raises their individual self-esteems by enhancing...