Evaluate social identity theory, making reference to relevant studies. (22)

Evaluate (22) – An appraisal by weighing up the strengths and limitations.

Social Identity Theory (Theorist: Henry Tajfel)

Henry Tajfel – Intergroup discrimination Experiment (SIT)
[A] To test the Social Identity Theory.
  • 48 boys were assigned at random to 2 groups based on their preference between Klee or Kandinsky’s art work.
  • Asked to rate in-group and out-group based on traits e.g. like-ability.
  • Tajfel found that the out-group was rated less likeable, but never actually disliked.
  • There seems to be a preference of the in-group over out-group, however it is not clear that they make social comparisons to enhance either self-esteem.
  • Later research – Social identity does not account for intergroup conflict. In the absence of competition, social comparison can be positive.
  • Supports Social Identity Theory.
  • Showed the formation and the features of SIT.
  • Ecological validity: Low, lab conditions.
  • Meaningless groups.
  • Controlled environment removed confounding variables.

Cialdini et al. – Football game observation (SIT)
[A] Demonstrate social comparison with college football supporters.
  • Observed what college students wear to school the next day after their football game.
  • Students wore apparel with the representative colour of their school the day after the football game if the school won.
  • Result of positive self-concept results in a bias intergroup comparison.
  • Having a positive representation of your social group (Positive distinctiveness).

Philip Zimbardo – Stanford Prison Experiment (Conformity/SIT)
[A] Prove that situational factors can affect behaviour.
  • 22 male subjects were selected through personality assessment based on their mental stability, maturity and social ability.
  • Randomly assigned the role of either prisoner or warden.
  • "Prisoners"
  • Signed a consent document that some of their human rights will be suspended for the experiment and that all subjects would receive $15 a day up to 2 weeks.
  • "Arrested" by surprise by real police from their house, taken to a real police station for standard procedures.
  • Driven blindfolded to a prison (set, not a real prison) where they were stripped naked, delouse, and dressed in prisoner uniform.
  • Stayed in the prison for 24 hours a day, followed a schedule of work, rest and meal.
  • "Wardens"
  • Put on warden costumes with the correct props. They worked 8 hours a day, and were given no specific instructions.
  • Asked to keep a reasonable degree of order and were prohibited against any means of physical violence.
  • Experiment was terminated in 6 days, instead of the intended 14 days due to abnormal reactions shown by both prisoners and wardens.
  • "Prisoners"
  • Displayed passivity and dependence. Half the prisoners showed signs of depression, crying, fits of rage, acute anxiety.
  • Due to this reason, they were released early.
  • All but two prisoners would forfeit the money if they could be released early.
  • Experimenters proposed that these behaviours were results of the loss of personal identity, dependency and learned helplessness.
  • "Wardens"
  • Displayed huge enjoyment of power at their disposal, leading towards abusive use of power, dehumanizing the prisoners.
  • Some wardens worked extra time with no extra pay and were disappointed that the experiment was over.
  • They punished the prisoners for no apparent justifications (abusive use of power).
  • Not all wardens displayed aggression, but none opposed other’s use of it.
  • The situation (prison environment) affected all participant’s behaviour.
  • Arguable that the environment of a prison is what causes prisoners to act violently.
  • Supports SIT
  • Displayed the categorisation and development of identity in both groups.
  • Ecological validity: Low, lab environment, overt observation.
  • Prohibition of physical violence limited the generalising ability of the experiment.
  • Experimenters argue that…
  • The functional equivalent of the prison system (setting, costumes etc.) were implemented.
  • Reactions and behaviours of the subjects exceeded the level of “role play”.
  • Calling each other by ID number in private, wardens showed aggression even when they thought they were not being watched.
  • Reliability: Experiment was not repeated until years after, subjects did not act as predicted.
  • Culture bias: only studied subjects from the US.
  • Ethical considerations and issues.
  • Participants signed consent forms, but they had no clear idea of the procedure of the experiment.
  • Induced aggression in subjects.
  • Created discrimination and violence.
  • Gender bias: only male subjects were used.

Strengths of SIT

Weaknesses of SIT