Describe the similarities and differences in the way identity is conceptualised by the psychosocial theory of identity and the social identity theory.
This paper looks at two identity theories, Psychosocial theory and The Social Identity Theory. Beginning with an overview of each, then discussing similarities and differences including the background of the researchers, their research methods and the evidence they found.
Erik Erikson believed identity to be psychosocial – personal and social (Phoenix, 2007). Born in Germany, and raised by his Jewish mother and Jewish-German stepfather he took his stepfather’s surname of Homburger. His adolescence was fuelled by angst and he spent ...view middle of the document...
He argued that seeing someone as ‘different’ can threaten our own identity and therefore lead to aggression (Phoenix, 2007)
James Marcia found a method to measure Erikson’s theories on identity (Phoenix, 2007). He too focused on adolescents, and devised the semi-structured interview – a questionnaire that covered important aspects in an adolescent’s life. Marcia used the answers to collect quantitative data.
Marcia identified four identity statuses, depending on the amount of commitment and exploration the participant expressed. He discovered a status similar to Erikson’s ‘identity moratorium’. This status was used for participants who had low commitment and high exploration, meaning that they were still exploring experiences to enable them to grow and achieve identity.
The Social Identity Theory (SIT) was developed by Henri Tajfel (Phoenix, 2007). Tajfel, a European Jew, had escaped the Nazi regime. He believed that identity was gained from ones social groups, and either already having, or adopting characteristics that fit within those groups. He believed that a feeling of ‘belonging’ gave identity to the ‘ingroup’, and that other groups were classed as the ‘outgroup’ thus creating a feeling of hostility.
Tajfel and his colleagues used an experimental method to prove his theory. They divided groups of teenage boys into random groups, giving them untrue reasons as to why they were in a particular group. He then asked them to divide coins, allocating a certain amount for outgroup, ingroup, and individuals. The outgroup and ingroup coins were divided equally but the boys showed favour to the individuals within their group even though there was no gain to be won. Tajfel had proved that, in minimal conditions, the groups had ‘discriminated’ against one another (Phoenix, 2007)
The Social Identity Theory highlights that differences in power balance causes discrimination (Phoenix, 2007). It also discovered that ‘self categorisation’ can promote change. Those who feel of a lower status may strive to change their identity to improve their status, social creativity can be used to promote positive light on subordinate groups, and social competition can encourage social change by encouraging positive alternative views on social groups.
The first similarity we see between the psychosocial and Social Identity Theory is not between the two theories but between Erikson and Tajfel. Both used their own life experiences to base their hypotheses. Erikson on his troubled adolescence - perhaps Erikson’s belief that ‘a sense of continuity, uniqueness of worth’ (Phoenix, 2007) was important because those were missing in his life. Tajfel, on the persecution of the Nazi’s on the Jews, investigated why ‘ingroup’ and ‘outgroup’ discriminated against each other.
Both believed that identities are created through current historical events and are affected by where one is geographically. They also both supported that one must go through a...