Role Theory

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Acronyms are not commonly used for appraisal theory

Alternate name(s)

Cognitive Role Theory, Functional Role Theory, Structural Role Theory, Organizational Role Theory, Symbolic Interactionist Role Theory

Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Individual Behaviour

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

Expectations of role held, requirements of roles, Interpersonal factors, Individual – role taker’s attributes

Concise description of theory

Role theory is a concept developed under anthropology, social Philosophy, and psychology which broadly explains the role or expectation or social position assumed by an individual is generated by norms, beliefs or preferences of the individual. Role theory depicts the model which explains that an individual behaves in a particular way as per the role assumed by him (Biddle, 1986). Role is differently defined in different literature by (Moreno, 1934), (Linton, 1915) (Mead, 1934).

Five different perspectives on role theory depict distinct descriptions which have generated interest in sociology and social psychology.

  1. Functional Role Theory: Linton in his work suggested about functional approach to role theory. This basically focuses on characteristic of a person which further develops social position of an individual within social system. With certain characteristics and normative expectations shared in a social system, “roles” explain and prescribe behaviours.
  2. Symbolic Interactionist Role Theory: Within a social system, based on interactions among individuals, an individual understand own and other’s role or conduct and roles get evolved through various cognitive concepts and these social interactions.
  3. Structural Role Theory: In this area, more focus is given to social structures and how they define a role, instead of attention given to norms and general expectations. Social structure is perceived as social positions or statuses who have similar behaviours considered as roles towards others in the social structure.
  4. Organizational Role Theory: Roles in formal organizations will be task-oriented and hierarchical which are planned in advance. They have specific agenda and their actions are aligned with those agenda.
  5. Cognitive Role Theory: With social conditions in a social system, there is a rise to varying expectations which impacts social conduct. A person tries to imitate the roles of others, which is referred to as role playing, defined by (Moreno, 1934).

Diagram/schematic of theory

Role Theory Diagram
Role theory

Originating author(s)

Ralph Linton, George Herbert Mead and Jacob Moreno

Seminal articles

Linton, R. 1 936. The Study of Man. New York: Appleton-Century

Mead, G. H. 1934. Mind. Self and Society. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press

Moreno, J. L. & Jennings, Helen Hall.  (1934).  Who shall survive? : a new approach to the problem of human interrelations.  Washington, D. C :  Nervous and Mental Disease Publishing Co

Biddle, B. J. (1986). Recent Developments in Role Theory. Annual Review of Sociology, 12, 67-92.

Originating area

Anthropology, Social Philosophy, Psychology

Level of analysis

Individual, Organizational, Group, Social

Links to WWW sites describing theory

Links from this theory to other theories

Role Conflict:


IS articles that use the theory

Tarafdar, M., Tu, Q., Ragu-Nathan, B.S., Ragu-Nathan, T.S. The impact of technostress on role stress and productivity (2007) Journal of Management Information Systems, 24 (1), pp. 301-328. Cited 524 times.

Coppola, N.W., Hiltz, S.R., Rotter, N.G. Becoming a virtual professor: Pedagogical roles and asynchronous learning networks (2002) Journal of Management Information Systems, 18 (4), pp. 169-189. Cited 254 times.

Kimbrough, A.M., Guadagno, R.E., Muscanell, N.L., Dill, J. Gender differences in mediated communication: Women connect more than do men (2013) Computers in Human Behavior, 29 (3), pp. 896-900. Cited 196 times.

Verleye, K., Gemmel, P., Rangarajan, D. Managing Engagement Behaviors in a Network of Customers and Stakeholders: Evidence From the Nursing Home Sector (2014) Journal of Service Research, 17 (1), pp. 68-84. Cited 184 times.

Guadagno, R.E., Muscanell, N.L., Okdie, B.M., Burk, N.M., Ward, T.B. Even in virtual environments women shop and men build: A social role perspective on Second Life (2011) Computers in Human Behavior, 27 (1), pp. 304-308. Cited 86 times.

Moeller, S., Ciuchita, R., Mahr, D., Odekerken-Schröder, G., Fassnacht, M. Uncovering Collaborative Value Creation Patterns and Establishing Corresponding Customer Roles (2013) Journal of Service Research, 16 (4), pp. 471-487. Cited 80 times.

Wilder, K.M., Collier, J.E., Barnes, D.C. Tailoring to Customers’ Needs: Understanding How to Promote an Adaptive Service Experience With Frontline Employees (2014) Journal of Service Research, 17 (4), pp. 446-459. Cited 78 times.

Fuchs, L., Pernul, G., Sandhu, R. Roles in information security - A survey and classification of the research area (2011) Computers and Security, 30 (8), pp. 748-769. Cited 65 times.

Zhang, X.M., Wang, C. Network positions and contributions to online public goods: The case of Chinese Wikipedia (2012) Journal of Management Information Systems, 29 (2), pp. 11-40. Cited 62 times.

Van Reijmersdal, E.A., Jansz, J., Peters, O., Van Noort, G. Why girls go pink: Game character identification and game-players' motivations (2013) Computers in Human Behavior, 29 (6), pp. 2640-2649. Cited 59 times.

Lupu, Emil, Sloman, Morris Policy based role object model (1997) Proceedings of the International Enterprise Distributed Object Computing Workshop, EDOC, pp. 36-47. Cited 52 times.

Lin, X., Wang, X. Examining gender differences in people's information-sharing decisions on social networking sites (2020) International Journal of Information Management, 50, pp. 45-56. Cited 50 times.

Koch, H., Schultze, U. Stuck in the conflicted middle: A roletheoretic perspective on B2B E-marketplaces (2011) MIS Quarterly: Management Information Systems, 35 (1), pp. 123-146. Cited 50 times.

Kendall, E.A. Role modelling for agent system analysis, design, and implementation (1999) Proceedings - 1st International Symposium on Agent Systems and Applications and 3rd International Symposium on Mobile Agents, ASA/MA 1999, art. no. 805405, pp. 204-218. Cited 47 times.

Tifferet, S. Gender differences in privacy tendencies on social network sites: A meta-analysis (2019) Computers in Human Behavior, 93, pp. 1-12. Cited 45 times.

Julien, H., Genuis, S.K. Emotional labour in librarians' instructional work (2009) Journal of Documentation, 65 (6), pp. 926-937. Cited 36 times.

Alberola, J.M., Del Val, E., Sanchez-Anguix, V., Palomares, A., Dolores Teruel, M. An artificial intelligence tool for heterogeneous team formation in the classroom (2016) Knowledge-Based Systems, 101, pp. 1-14. Cited 35 times.

Ammari, T., Schoenebeck, S. Thanks for your interest in our facebook group, but it's only for dads:" social roles of Stay-at-Home dads (2016) Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW, 27, pp. 1363-1375. Cited 34 times.

Seering, J., Flores, J.P., Savage, S., Hammer, J. The social roles of bots: Situating bots in discussions in online communities (2018) Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 2 (CSCW), art. no. 157, . Cited 31 times.

Stock, R.M., Merkle, M. A service Robot Acceptance Model: User acceptance of humanoid robots during service encounters (2017) 2017 IEEE International Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communications Workshops, PerCom Workshops 2017, art. no. 7917585, pp. 339-344. Cited 31 times.

Ng, S.C., Plewa, C., Sweeney, J.C. Professional Service Providers’ Resource Integration Styles (PRO-RIS): Facilitating Customer Experiences (2016) Journal of Service Research, 19 (4), pp. 380-395. Cited 31 times.

Boh, W.F., Wong, S.S. Organizational climate and perceived manager effectiveness: Influencing perceived usefulness of knowledge sharing mechanisms (2013) Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 14 (3), pp. 122-152. Cited 31 times.

Neumann, M. Homo socionicus: A case study of simulation models of norms (2008) JASSS, 11 (4), . Cited 31 times.

Jones, R.E., Deckro, R.F. The social psychology of project management conflict (1993) European Journal of Operational Research, 64 (2), pp. 216-228. Cited 31 times.

Wicks, D.A. The information-seeking behavior of pastoral clergy: A study of the interaction of their work worlds and work roles (1999) Library and Information Science Research, 21 (2), pp. 205-226. Cited 30 times.

Berdahl, J.L., Craig, K.M. Equality of participation and influence in groups: The effects of communication medium and sex composition (1995) Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), 4 (2), pp. 179-201. Cited 26 times.

Blut, M., Heirati, N., Schoefer, K. The Dark Side of Customer Participation: When Customer Participation in Service Co-Development Leads to Role Stress (2020) Journal of Service Research, 23 (2), pp. 156-173. Cited 25 times.

Cho, Y.H., Kim, J.K., Kim, S.H. Role-based approach to business process simulation modeling and analysis (1998) Computers and Industrial Engineering, 35 (1-2), pp. 343-346. Cited 25 times.

Galletta, D.F., Heckman Jr., R.L. A role theory perspective on end-user development (1990) Information Systems Research, 1 (2), pp. 168-187. Cited 25 times.


Biddle, B. J. (1986). Recent Developments in Role Theory. Annual Review of Sociology, 67-92.

Linton, R. (1915). The Study Of Man: An Introduction. New York: Appleton-Century.

Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind. Self and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Moreno, J. L. (1934). Who shall survive? : a new approach to the problem of human interrelations. Washington DC: Nervous and Mental Disease Publishing Co.


Smit Ghelani, Doctoral Student at Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, India

Date last updated

21/08/2022, Please feel free to make modifications to this site. In order to do so, you must register.