Social Identity Theory

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Alternate name(s)


Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Social Identity, Personal Identity

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

Social Categorization, Social Identification, Social Comparison

Concise description of theory

Social Identity Theory is a conceptualization recognizing that the way we perceive others and ourselves is based on both our unique characteristics and our membership in various groups. It also compares the individual to other groups to help to define exactly who they are depending on the context of the activity. The theory was proposed by Henri Tajfel and John Turner in 1970’s and 1980’s through which they explained the intergroup behavior. There are two identities.

  1. Personal Identity: About the person's characteristics which can be the person's appearance or personality, such as height, weight, hair color, etc.
  2. Social Identity: About the group the person belongs to, such as a citizen of a particular country, student of a particular university, etc.

To understand the Social Identity Theory we need to understand the three mental processes involved in it so that we can evaluate it properly. These are social categorization, social identification, and social comparison.

  1. Social Categorization: Process of classifying people into a groups based on similar characteristics. In this categorization, there are further two more groups - in-group and out-group. In-group is defined as a group in which people come up with the same interest or identity, and opposite to that out-group are those people who do not belong to a specific in-group.
  2. Social Identification: Accepting as self-descriptive the qualities attributed to one’s group, e.g. a doctor will behave like a doctor and help the patient.
  3. Social Comparison: Evaluating ourselves or our own group by comparing it with others. In the absence of objective measure for self-evaluation we compare ourselves to others to find out how we are actually doing the comparison.

Importance of social identity theory

This theory identifies themselves in terms of their characteristics and their own group membership to prevent stereotypes and discriminating against others. Some of the key extension and development of the social identity approach focus on contextual factors that can affect the silence and strategy expression of identity theory. The identity is transformed and radicalized through collective struggle and the importance of emotion to group identity and group life.

Diagram/schematic of theory


Originating author(s)

Henri Tajfel, John Turner

Seminal articles

Tajfel, H. (1974). Social identity and intergroup behaviour. Information (International Social Science Council), 13(2), 65-93.

Tajfel, H. E. (1978). Differentiation between social groups: Studies in the social psychology of intergroup relations. Academic Press.

Ashforth, B. E., & Mael, F. (1989). Social identity theory and the organization. Academy of management review, 14(1), 20-39.

Turner, J. C., & Tajfel, H. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. Psychology of intergroup relations, 5, 7-24.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behaviour. u: Worchel S. i Austin WG (ur.) Psychology of intergroup relations. Chicago: Nelson Hall.

Originating area

Sociology, Psychology

Level of analysis

Individual, Group , Organization

Links to WWW sites describing theory

Links from this theory to other theories

Self-categorization theory

IS articles that use the theory

Straub, D., Loch, K., Evaristo, R., Karahanna, E., & Srite, M. (2002). Toward a theory-based measurement of culture. Journal of Global Information Management (JGIM), 10(1), 13-23.

Qiu, L., & Benbasat, I. (2010). A study of demographic embodiments of product recommendation agents in electronic commerce. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 68(10), 669-688.

Lee, D., Kim, H. S., & Kim, J. K. (2011). The impact of online brand community type on consumer's community engagement behaviors: Consumer-created vs. marketer-created online brand community in online social-networking web sites. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(1-2), 59-63.

Song, J., & Kim, Y. J. (2006). Social influence process in the acceptance of virtual community service. Information Systems Frontiers, 8(3), 241-252. Park, S. B., & Chung, N. (2011). Mediating roles of self-presentation desire in online game community commitment and trust behavior of Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(6), 2372-2379.

Mishra, A. N., Anderson, C., Angst, C. M., & Agarwal, R. (2012). Electronic health records assimilation and physician identity evolution: An identity theory perspective. Information Systems Research, 23(3-part-1), 738-760.

Neys, J. L., Jansz, J., & Tan, E. S. (2014). Exploring persistence in gaming: The role of self-determination and social identity. Computers in Human Behavior, 37, 196-209.

Original Contributor(s)

Raunak Mishra - Doctoral Student at Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode (IIMK) - INDIA

Date last updated

16 November 2022 - Stephen Surles

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