Social Identity Theory

Cite this article as: Praveen Shrestha, "Social Identity Theory," in Psychestudy, December 24, 2017,

America is the greatest country in the world! While it may not actually be true, it’s understandable for an American to say so. The individual does so in order to increase their self worth. This is an example of social identity theory.

Social Identity Theory discusses the idea of a person’s sense of belonging based on the group they are in. In that regard, this is a perfect modern day example. Americans have a sense of belonging to the nation, which can be considered a group. The group where members consider themselves to be a part of is an ingroup.

And the members of the group, in this particular example – Americans, might even hold prejudice against anyone outside their group – people from other countries (outgroup).

For instance, Indians and French people are the worst!

This arises the concept of in-group and out-group, more easily understandable as (Us) and (Them).

Understanding Social Identity Theory

Social Identity Theory discusses the idea of a person’s sense of belonging based on the group they are in. SIT was first proposed by British psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner in 1979.

The theory suggests that an individual takes an important source of pride and self esteem from the group they are involved in whether it be social class, family, sports team and so on. Group membership provides a sense of belonging to the social world that we live in.

And we do our best to increase our self worth or self-image by enhancing the status of the group we belong in.

Social Identity Theory states that members of any ingroup will hold prejudice and discriminate against those belonging to the out-group. This gives the group members the sense of enhancing their self-image.

Henri Trajfel proposed that the idea of putting people into groups and categories is a cognitive process; that arises from the tendency to group things together. The grouping process exaggerates:

  • Similarities between the members in the group
  • Differences with other groups

We categorize people depending on whether they are members in our own group (in-group) or they are in other groups (out-group). We tend to look at group members to be more similar than they actually are and develop a sense of biasness. This form of social categorization is one explanation for prejudice attitudes such as “them” and “us”.

Extreme cases of prejudiced views between ingroups and outgroups may result in racism. For instance, racism resulted in mass genocide in Germany. Another modern day example, that’s been happening for centuries now, is the racism between (bluntly put) whites and blacks.


In-group: People belonging to any particular group.

Out-group: People outside of that immediate group.

Social Identity Theory Outline

Turner and Tajfel explained that the mental processes that take place in formation of groups and prejudice views against outgroups can be broken down into three parts.

Social Identity Theory

The first basis of social categorization is to identify and understand people collectively. Some of the examples can be nerds and athletes, black and white, middle class and working class, etc.Social Categorization

By knowing what categories we belong to, we can identify proper behavior of people involved in certain groups. However, an individual can be a part of more than one group at the same time.

Social Identification

We not only become a part of the group, but also adopt the identity of it. We tend to act in a certain way that we perceive the group members to act as. For instance, if you identify as a middle class person, you will walk the walk and talk the talk that you believe to be appropriate for a middle class group.

This causes the group to have an emotional significance on us. There might also be a negative consequence, meaning our self-esteem might be entirely dependent on our identity as a group member.

Social Comparison

After we are categorized in a group and we’ve adopted the identity of the group, we tend to compare our group (in-group) to other groups (out-group). This is the third stage known as social comparison, according to Trajfel and Turner.

Social comparison causes members of a group to compare themselves to other groups. The group members are unknowingly looking for validation of their self-image. This also explains the prejudice and discrimination that causes between groups. These prejudice can be said to be the result of negative comparison by certain members of the group.

Characteristics of Intergroup Comparisons

  • Favoring ingroup to outgroup.
  • Create maximum differences against other groups.
  • Create ingroup cohesion by minimizing the perception of differences between ingroup members.
  • Focusing on the positive information of the ingroup and negative information of outgroup.

A word from Psychestudy

Social Identity Theory isn’t a foreign, artificial concept. In fact, it’s a vital part of an individual, and can also said to be a natural phenomenon.

Cite this article as: Praveen Shrestha, "Social Identity Theory," in Psychestudy, December 24, 2017,