Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Haslam I 141
Social Identity Theory/SIT/Tajfel/Turner: [the theory] suggests that people do not automatically take on roles associated with group membership, but do so only when they have come to identify with the group in question (Tajfel and Turner, 1979)(1). Cf. >Stanford Prison Experiment/psychological theories.
For the Stanford prison experiment the theory suggests that guard only came to identify with their role, and to define that role in brutal terms, because a tyrannical social identity was actively promoted by Zimbardo in his guard briefing.


1. Tajfel, H. and Turner, J.C. (1979) ‘An integrative theory of intergroup conflict’, in W.G. Austin and S. Worchel (eds), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole. pp. 33–48.


S. Alexander Haslam and Stephen Reicher, „Tyranny. Revisiting Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment“, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic studies. London: Sage Publications

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Haslam I 170
Social Identity Theory/Tajfel: Tajfels theory (Tajfel 1971(1) started to shift in relation to the interpretation of the results of the minimal group studies (>Minimal group/Tajfel). (See Diehl 1990(2)). A new explanation in terms of social identity started to emerge (Tajfel, 1974(3); Turner, 1975(4)). Turner (1975) talked of ‘social competition’ between the minimal groups and contrasted this with Sherif’s (1967)(5) notion of ‘realistic’ competition.
Thesis/Tajfel/Turner: social categorization into groups, and membership in one of these groups, provides a basis for anchoring the self in the ingroup. At this point, Tajfel famously defined social identity as ‘that part of the self-concept corresponding to our group membership’ (Tajfel 1978(6): 63). >Social identity/Tajfel.
A further element was a social comparison process: understanding the meaning of our group involves a comparison with other relevant groups of which we are not members (facilitated by the social categorization process). To see the ingroup as ‘us’ implies a contrast with „them“.
Distinctiveness/Tajfel/Turner: Tajfel and Turner (…) posited a motivational process whereby groups strive for ‘positive group distinctiveness’, which entails them positively differentiating their ingroup from the relevant comparison outgroup, on valued dimensions, and thereby gaining a positive social identity. This central element in the theory was elaborated to explain processes of social change in status hierarchies. (Tajfel and Turner, 1979)(7).
Problem: it is not clear, whether the process of differentiation starts form the investment in a social identity, or whether it is used to create or consolidate a (distinctive) sense of identity.
Haslam I 171
In the new social identity explanation it is probably true to say that [the] (…) idea [of] focusing on creating meaning and coherence (…) became sidelined by the focus on the quest to create a positive social identity.
Self-esteem hypothesis: As a result, positive differentiation became more bound up with enhancing the ingroup and raising self-esteem (i.e., through self-enhancement) than with creating (group) distinctiveness per se. >Self-esteem/Tajfel.



1. Tajfel, H., Flament, C., Billig, M.G. and Bundy, R.F. (1971) ‘Social categorization and intergroup behaviour’, European Journal of Social Psychology, 1: 149–77.
2. Diehl, M. (1990) ‘The minimal group paradigm: Theoretical explanations and empirical findings’, European Review of Social Psychology, 1: 263–92.
3 Tajfel, H. (1974) ‘Social identity and intergroup behaviour’, Social Science Information, 13: 65–93.
4. Turner, J.C. (1975) ‘Social comparison and social identity: Some prospects for intergroup behaviour’, European Journal of Social Psychology, 5: 5–34.
5. Sherif, M. (1967) Group Conflict and Co-operation: Their Social Psychology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
6. Tajfel, H. (1978) ‘Social categorization, social identity and social comparison’, in H. Tajfel (ed.), Differentiation Between Social Groups. London: Academic Press. pp. 61–76.
7. Tajfel, H. and Turner, J.C. (1979) ‘An integrative theory of intergroup conflict’, in W.G. Austin and S. Worchel (eds), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole. pp. 33–48.


Russell Spears and Sabine Otten,“Discrimination. Revisiting Tajfel’s minimal group studies“, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Tajfel, Henri
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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