What to know about SIT (Social Identity Theory)

SIT is a theory that has been developed by the psychologist Tajfel and his colleagues. This theory is based on 4 main interrelated concepts: social categorisation, social identity, social comparison and positive distinctiveness. In this article you will find an overall description of these main concepts which together summarise Social Identity Theory.

Social categorisation

In our everyday life we unconsciously categorise our social environment into specific social categories. This process is called social categorisation, which is defined as the process of identifying ourselves and others as part of particular social groups.

Social categorisation divides our social world into in-groups, to which we as individuals belong to, and out-groups, to which we don’t belong.

Social categorisation has a particular influence in our perception of the social world. This because it reduces our perception of variability within our in-groups, it reduces the perceived variability in the out-groups, but most importantly it increases the perceived differences between out in-groups and the out-groups. These three factors if put together can cause many phenomena against the social groups to which we don’t belong such as racism. Moreover it can be applied to our everyday life. Think about when you are playing a sport against another team and your coach to increase your team perception it labels your in-group as something that works as one single unit and describes the out-group as something to defeat. All of this doesn’t necessarily means it’s wrong for our life as it’s a natural phenomenon which happens on a daily basis.

Social identity and personal identity

The in-groups to which we belong constitute an important part of our sense of self. The kinds of identity are two:

  1. Social identity, which reflects the emotional significance attached to a group membership;
  2. Personal identity, which defines our self in terms of an individual’s personality traits and relationships.

As we have many social identities and groups we identify with, we don’t experience our self as something fragmented. On the contrary, we see it as something continuous and integrated.

Social comparison and positive distinctiveness

SIT’s self-esteem hypothesis claims that an individual strives for a positive self-concept, therefore we become more encouraged to evaluate both our personal and social identities positively.

The process of social comparison relates to the fact that we constantly compare ourselves (the in-groups to which we belong) with relevant out-groups.

Social comparison is additionally fuelled by the need we have of positive distinctiveness, that is what pushes us to demonstrate that our in-group is better than other out-groups.

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