Psychology, especially social psychology, has been interested in defining how we are, our feelings, and how we develop our self-concept as an element that differentiates one person from another or, contrarily, identifies them with their reference groups.
Feelings for our reference groups and how these groups influence our behavior, beliefs, and perceptions, that is, on our social identity, shape our self-concept.
Self-concept is a crucial element to understanding how people are and their behavior.
Identity and self-concept
Identity is a personal construction developed by integrating identifications and not-identifications with other people and our reference groups. It is also a social construction generated through internal assimilation of roles and the reflection of the evaluations from others (Western & Heim, 2003). In this way, identity is understood as specific knowledge that is built (Gaviria, Cuadrado & López, 2009).
Different theories have addressed self-concept and identity. Some authors consider them synonyms. Nevertheless, others consider identity more restrictive than self-concept, so that self-concept encompasses several identities, while identity would not include various self-concepts.
Identity, as a construct, has been divided into different categories. Thus, in the last quarter of the 20th century, two kinds of identities have been identified, which in turn gave rise to two types of self-concepts: personal identity, proposed for Tajfel y Turner (1979), and social identity, a concept that gave rise to the social identity theory.
Although from different origins and core aspects since 1980, both theories have been related in several works and researches that share an interest in social identity.
Starting from a double concept of social identity, in the ’90s, a movement switched toward a triple concept with Brewer and Gadner (1996). They proposed a more general vision about self-concept that contemplates individual, relational, and collective self-concept.
Self-categorization theory (Turner, 1985)
This theory argues that people categorize themselves considering only their personal identity when they perceive themselves differently from the rest of humans.
This need for self-categorization likes universal, but different studies have demonstrated that there are nuances whether individual comes from collectivist or individualist culture (Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Páez et al., 2004; Singelis, 1994).
Social identity theory (Tajfel, 1972)
This theory has approached three basic concepts: social categorization, social identity, and social comparison.
Individuals build their social identity through categorization by which subjects perceive themselves as belonging or not to different categories.
Social identity would be understood as a part of individual self-concept, derived from the knowledge of belonging to a group or social groups, along with the emotional and evaluative meaning that this belonging entails (Tajfel, 1981).
That knowledge of belonging and the evaluative meaning are reached through the third construct mentioned, through social comparison processes between the in-group and the out-group.
Identity fusion (Swann et al., 2009)
In the identity fusion study, it is proposed a form of union between personal and social identity. That implies a functional equivalence between them. Fusion entails a feeling of individual-group unity that distinguishes fused individuals from the individuals identified merely with the group.
Four principles distinguish fusion from identification with a group (Gómez et al., 2013). In the fusion, it is observed:
- A strong feeling of personal agency is observed in behaviors and control of their behavior in favor of the group.
- Identity synergy: personal and social identity are combined synergistically to motivate the behavior in favor of the group.
- The relationship loops: other members in the group are valued, not only for their belonging to the group but for their personal features.
- Irrevocability: when the fusion with the group is produced, the member stays fused.
In certain contexts, the connection between individual and group is so remarkable that the border between the self and the others is turned diffuse. Group is considered as an externalization of the individual. When this fusion is observed, the individual can equate group well-being to the own well-being, perceiving that the group’s goals and priorities are coincident with the own ones.
Gaviria E, Cuadrado L y López M. “Introducción a la psicología social”. Sanz y Torres (2009).
Gómez A, Morales J F, Hart S, Vázquez A y Swann JR. “Reacciones a ser rechazado socialmente: ¿luchar o no hacer nada? La fusión de la identidad como moderador de las respuestas al ostracismo”. Ciencia Cognitiva, 7:1, 5-8 (2013).
Huici C, Molero F, Gómez A, Morales JF, Falomir JM, Gaviria E, Gómez C. “Psicología de los grupos”. UNED (2012).
Markus H, y Kitayama S. “Culture and self: implications for cognition emotion and motivation”. Psychological Review, 98,224-253 (1991).
Páez D, Zubieta E, Mayordomo S, Jiménez A y Ruiz S. “Identidad, Autoconcepto, Autoestima, Autoeficacia y Locus de Control”. En Páez D, Fernández I, Ubillos S y Zubieta E. (coord.). Psicología Social, Cultura y Educación. Madrid: Pearson Prentice Hall (2004).
Singelis, T M. “The measurement of independent and interdependent self-construals”. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 580-591 (1994).
Swann W .B, Gómez A, Seyle C D, Morales J F y Huici C. “Identity fusion: The interplay of personal and social identities in extreme group behavior” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 995–1011 (2009).
Tajfel H. “La categorization social”. En S. Moscovici (ed.) Introduction à la psychologie sociale(pp. 272-302). Paris: Larousse. (1972).
Turner JC y Brown R. “Social status, cognitive alternatives, and intergroup relations”. In H. Tajfel (Ed.), Differentiation between social groups (pp. 201-234). London: Academic Press (1978).
Turner JC, Hogg MA, Oakes PJ, Reicher S D y Wetherell MS. “Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory”. New York, NY: Basil Blackwell(1987).