Social Identity: Why We Feel The Need to Belong

April 16, 2018

Social identity is the degree to which we identify with a certain group. It is the measure of how important a group is to us. The more we identify with the group, the more this group will define our personality. The norms and values ​​of the group are usually shared by all its members. And the more important the group members consider themselves, the more they will respect each other and themselves.

But is social identity as simple as how important a group is to us? No, social identity is not just the importance of the group and adherence to its norms and values. Instead, the social identity of any group is an amalgamation of different parts. To be more specific, social identity is made up of two factors at a group level and five at an individual level.

The self-investment of social identity

As we said, at a group level social identity has two components: self-investment and self-definition. Self-investment refers to the feeling of belonging to the group. The feeling that you are part of something bigger and the positive feelings this entails.

For some people, the sense of inclusion from belonging to a group is extremely important. This feeling, which fosters well-being, is associated with the attribution of positive characteristics. For example, my group is the best, the members are great people, we’re involved in really important things…

Social identity, men all dressing the same

Self-investment, in turn, is composed of three individual components. These are satisfaction, solidarity and centrality. Satisfaction is reflected in the positive feelings towards the group and towards being a part it.

A person who considers himself French, and part of France, will be happy to be French. He will even deny the negative aspects that other people ascribe to the French, so his satisfaction with the group will not waver.

Solidarity in a group

Solidarity is your psychological link with the other members of the group and your commitment to them. The people who most identify with a group will be willing to do things for the rest of the group members.

A person who feels strongly identified with a religion will do almost anything for people of the same religion. However, it may be harder for that person to connect with people of other religions. Solidarity implies commitment to the group and its members.

Centrality, then, makes group members sensitive to group problems, whether they occur within the group or in relation to other groups. When the group feels threatened and centrality is important to the members, they will fight the threat.

Centrality consists of putting the group before individual needs. For example, an amateur football team can put big part of their life on the back burner in order to dedicate themselves to their team.

Social identity of Buddhist children

The self-definition of social identity

On the other hand, self-definition is how the group defines itself. The degree to which group members think they’re similar to the group is a big part of what self-definition is.

Therefore group members tend to be similar in a lot of different ways. The individual components of self-definition are self-stereotypes and homogeneity. Self-stereotypes are when group members perceive themselves as members of the group. By doing this, they also tend to adopt the stereotypes that are attributed to the group.

Normally, group members are perceived as similar to the most typical members of the group. They also feel like they share a common destiny with the group. As a result, they feel part of the successes and failures of the group.

The perceived homogeneity within the group is associated with the desire to maintain a positive, distinctive character for the group. The members usually think that their group has a lot in common and that all its members are similar. They usually see greater homogeneity in the group than there actually is.

Therefore, people who identify a lot with their group are likely to reject members of other groups. This is because they consider them to be too different. In fact, members of extreme groups, like the neo-Nazis will try to differentiate themselves as much as possible from other groups, such as skinheads, however similar they are.

Hands and feet joined together

The diversity of social identity

These different components of identity play a role in how people find their identity within groups. Some emphasize the homogeneity of the group and try to differentiate themselves from other groups. But others focus on solidarity with fellow group members or see centrality as the most important thing.

One practical example is found in the debate in Spain about the independence of Catalonia. On one hand, there are people who identify themselves as Spaniards and Catalans. On the other hand, there are others who only identify with one of these two social groups.

But that way of identifying is not the same for everyone. Some identify with the centrality of the Catalans and perceive that Spain is a threat. Others, however, will self-stereotype and try to imitate the most representative members of their group.

These differences in social identity make each person’s identity different and, consequently, they give more importance to certain aspects of the group at the expense of others. Therefore, people who belong to several overlapping groups, like Spain and Catalonia, may have different ways of identifying with each of the groups.