Evaluate social identity theory

Evaluate social identity theory

Social identity theory (SIT)

SIT is a theoretical framework developed by Tajfel and Turner (1979).

Social identity can be defined as the part of one’s self-concept based on the knowledge of membership in social group(s) in combination with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership.

  • Individuals strive to maintain a positive self-concept as well as a positive social identity. People make comparisons between ingroup and outgroup on valued dimensions to establish, maintain, and defend positive ingroup distinctiveness (social comparison).
  • When a social comparison results in a positive outcome for the ingroup, the need for a positive social identity is satisfied but the opposite may also happen (e.g. for low-status minority groups).
  • Intergroup discrimination can be one way to uphold a positive social identity for the ingroup (for example when women earn less than men for the same work or when whites think they are superior and discriminate against other ethnic groups).
  • Ingroup members are look to have positive traits while outgroup members are looked to have negative ones (leads to discrimination).

Study to use: Howarth (2002)



Strengths of SIT:

  • SIT assumes that intergroup conflict is not required for discrimination to occur. This is supported by empirical research.
  • SIT has been applied to understanding behaviors such as ethnocentrism, ingroup favoritism, conformity to ingroup norms, and stereotyping.

Limitations of SIT:

  • Minimal group research has been criticized for artificiality. The experimental set-up is so far from natural behavior that it can be questioned whether it reflects how people would react in real life. This could limit the predictive value of the theory.
  • SIT cannot fully explain how ingroup favoritism may result in violent behavior towards outgroups.
  • SIT cannot explain why social constraints such as poverty could play a bigger role in behavior than social identity.