Research Paper; Analysis of Social Identity Theory


The social identity theory is a theory explains the effectiveness of social determinants in a given setting by a group of people. The theory presents three concepts of; social categorisation, social identification, and social comparison. In an organization, the application of this theory can be used as a competitive tool for promoting teamwork in the organization. The social identity theory is important for promoting the unity of in-group members and can as well trigger stiff competition with the out-groups. Although it is a useful theory especially in dealing with the psychological connection of people, the theory also comes with its shortcomings.

This essay presents an analysis of the social identity theory and its contribution to the leadership in an organization.

Social Identity Theory

According to Hogg and Terry (2000), the social identity theory was developed to explain the cognitive processes involuntary observed by the person in the formation of a distinct group. The theory presents the three processes as social categorization, social identification, and social comparison.  When people form a group, they start by delineating their various distant characteristics that connect them. For instance, racial groups are formed based on skin color and having the same experiences. In an organization, social identity can be shaped by the organizational culture which based on the values implemented by the organisation (Crisp and Turner, 2011).

Social Categorisation

            The social categorisation cognitive process involves the classification into groups. Usually, in this first process, people identify the group to which they belong (in-group) as well as identify their rivals (out-group). In an organizational setting, the grouping can involve classifying works into various groups and set values and rules that will guide how the members of a particular group relate to each other. The concept of social identify theory can be applied in the organizational setting whereby the leaders should motivate their employees to conform to the culture of the organization. The leaders work by developing values and guidance on the employees in addition to assigning duties depending on the qualification of the employee.

Social Identification

            The identification process involves acquiring a similar behaviours or practice that will be identified with the group. The practices adopted by given group helps the members in the group to have some form of psychological connection. Acquiring similar practices makes the in-group members develop emotional connection and makes the members feel superior over other groups. According to Crisp and Turner (2011), the cognitive adaptation is based on the positive distinctiveness that is developed by members of the group. Establishing the positive distinctiveness, according to Heere et al (2011), can be a useful strategy for improving the brand equity.

The social identity theory can be used in the formation of strong teams in an organization. The teams can be sustained by setting of values that new members will have to adopt (Hitlin, 2003). New employees in the organization are familiarised with the organisation through an onboarding process. The onboarding process involves helping the new member to form strong bonds with the organisation.

Social Comparison

            This last cognitive process involves comparing of the in-group against other groups (out-groups).  As the groups become strongly meshed together, they form the rivalry with members of other groups.  In-group in the organization is shaped by the organizational culture that is developed by the organisation to improve the competitive advantage.  Vignoles et al (2011) argue that integrative identity is promoted by the core practice of the group and level of emotional and psychological connection of the group members. According to the theory, comparison with our groups helps the in-groups to develop strategies to counter the positive distinctiveness of other out-groups (Vignoles et al, 2011).  The human resources management can also involve social identity theory to bring together a team of employees from diverse cultures to work together as a team.

Strengths and Weakness of the Theory

            The theory explains that in-group esteem is purely based the success of the positive distinctiveness developed by the group. It is difficult to identify the success of a positive distinctiveness because group esteem may be affected by different factors such as the internal wrangles and the favourability of the external environment. On the other hand, there is no connection to the social comparison process to the success of the group especially because comparison may be based on other areas (Tajfel & Turner, 2004). For instance, in an organization, the comparison may be based on brand, talent management, and organisational culture.

             The strong connection formed by the members of an in-group may cause rivalry and discrimination of other groups. The members of the in-group focus on the shortcoming of other groups to maintain their level of esteem. The stiff competition and hostility at the intergroup level have been termed as an impediment to general growth of industries. This refutes the assumptions used in the theory that an intergroup comparison lifts the esteem of the in-groups (Tajfel 2010).


Social Identity explains three cognitive processes that people engage in during the formation of a group. The three cognitive processes are social categorization, social identification, and social comparison. Social identity theory can be used by the management in an organization to structure strong team with members that will work together to achieve the objectives of the organization.  The management can collaborate with the employees and other stakeholders to form values and rules that will shape the culture of the organization. The theory explains how identifying with a particular group makes people exhibit the same characterise and an emotional connection that makes the group feel superior over rival groups. However, the theory fails in providing a clear base on how the in-group esteem is influenced by comparing with other out-groups.








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