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Two Theoretical Approaches To Identity And Their Contributions

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Identity is "the internal, subjective concept of oneself as an individual" (Reber & Reber, 1985). In other words your own ideas about who you are as a person. In this essay I will look at two approaches to identity and how each has contributed to our understanding of this concept.

Henri Taijfel's social identity theory proposed that instead of seeing identity as individualistic it should be looked at in terms of social processes. He and other social identity theorists suggest that identity can be divided into two broad categories. The first is our personal identity, with regard to who we are in terms of our personal relationships and our individual personal behaviour. The second being our social identity, which is who we are in terms of the groups to which we belong. In order to experience psychological wellbeing, our core (central) identity, needs a combination of the two. Taijfel claimed that society is composed of various groups that differ from one another in terms of power, influence and status. By the process of social mobility you can move up or sometimes even down the social scale. We self categorize ourselves causing us to identify with some groups and distinguish ourselves from others. It is our affiliations with certain groups that define our identity, and that these groups are seen as part of our self concept. Taijfel was interested in investigating whether that basic principle of just belonging to a group was enough to make people favour one group and act less favourably to another. This was evident in Taijfel et als 1971 Minimal group experiments. Participants were allocated randomly on the basis of a favourite choice of two paintings, and this became their reason to favour their own group and discriminate against the other. This was also evident in Jane Elliot's 1968 blue/brown eye experiment. In both cases the feeling of belonging to a group to which you share characteristics is what was seen as important. Participants classified their in and out groups on the basis of whether they shared characteristics with them or not, regardless whether the characteristics were genuine or artificial. This leads to prejudice and/or discrimination and gave Taijfel the evidence he needed to support his initial theory. The need for your group to be seen more simply as better and or of higher status than another is what's needed in building a positive social identity.

Social identity theory has played a major part in helping psychologists understand the relationship between social categories and the self concept and also takes into consideration power relations and their effect on identity.

Taijfel's minimal group experiments helped to explain the tendency for people to "display intergroup discrimination" on the basis of one shared characteristic that was artificially made up to begin with. However one of this theories main contributions is that it has helped in the understanding of prejudice, stereotyping, social comparison and intergroup relations in society today

Erik Erikson claimed identity should be viewed in terms of both social and personal factors. This was the basis of his psychosocial theory as he believes they both play an important role in the development of your identity. Being "psychologically healthy" involves having a good idea of who you are in the society you live in, and this is just one of a few aspects needed in the achievement of your "core identity". Identity is seen to develop throughout an individual's lifetime during which they will experience psychological conflicts. It is the resolution of these conflicts that give substance to psychological development. These conflicts can be seen in Erikson's eight stages of identity development, starting as early as birth and continuing into old age.

Each stage builds off the one before it. So in order to move up a stage the conflicts of the previous



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