Social Psychology: Social Identity

Term Paper, 2013

37 Pages


Table of Contents


Social Identity

Gender Stereotypes and Identity
Reactions to Gender-Role Behaviour
Gender Role and Behaviour
Interpersonal Behaviour
Male vs. Female Self-Perceptions

Adult friends
Adult love-relationships
Marriage and the spouse

Cause of aggression
-Social causes
-Personal causes
-Situational causes
Control and prevention of aggression



List of Figures

Figure 1: The Self Concept

Figure 2: The Social Self - Concept.

Figure 3: The Gender Identity.

Figure 4: Attachment Styles

Figure 5: Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love

Figure 6: Dissatisfaction response template

Figure 7: Determinants of Aggression


The content of this paper discusses three separate, yet in my opinion, interlinked aspects of social development.

We begin with the concept of social identity, the development of one’s identity almost from birth, through adolescence into adulthood. The identity as a result of our interactions with those around us creates our self-concept and ultimately our self-esteem. Our gender and gender role development adds to our concept of self and determines our concept of who we are in relation to others and the world.

As we grow our interactions with those around us, commencing with the family unit gives credence to our understanding of our self-value. We learn about people’s perceptions of us through their dealings with us. As such, our self-esteem has the potential to promote or hinder healthy relationship development as we move through life from the core family relationships to our peer, significant other and spousal relationships. The success or failure of our relationships can be linked to our self-esteem. We learn about our self-perception, how others perceive us and what kind of responses we expect from those we come into contact with.

Dealing with our self-esteem as we move through life, suggests that interactions are tainted or coloured by a positive or negative self-concept respectively. We will see that perception is a key determinant in the generation of frustration when dealing with those around us. These frustrations are just one component of factors that may lead to the expression of inappropriate levels of aggression. We discuss other causes of aggression and ultimately seek to outline techniques that can assist individuals to create a less aggressive or more appropriate form of anger display.

As an educator, the focus of this paper has pertinence for the school environment but is not limited and moves beyond that into the world of work.

Social Identity

An individual’s social identity stems from who he thinks he is; his self-concept and his relation to others on the basis of race and gender commonalities or differences. While we must agree that we are mostly self-centred individuals, our self-concept is developed through our interaction with the people around us.

Our self-concept is based on our belief and perception of ourselves. This self-concept is a determinant of how other pieces of information that relates to us is assimilated into our perception of ourselves. Sedikides and Skowronski (1997) suggest that subjective self-awareness which is the ability to make a distinction between our social and physical environment, was the first aspect of social identity to develop. Subsequent to subjective self-awareness is objective self-awareness, this suggests that ‘man’ is able to focus attention on ourselves. Finally, symbolic self-awareness developed; this process relates to our ability to express and represent ourselves through the medium of the spoken word. This final aspect allows us the opportunity to make connections with those around us in a positive or negative fashion with reference to the situation in which communication takes place.


If the self-concept is based on the individual’s belief and perception of himself, it is prudent to suggest that each individual has an individual self-concept. His beliefs and perceptions will be unique yet the structure of the self-concept is a shared concept, common to all of us. At a basic level, the question of self-concept can be answered when we ask ourselves the question, “Who am I?” Research into our self-concept has outlined eight aspects that hold relevance for our understanding of who we are.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: The Self Concept

As the self-concept develops, or is created, it guides our future behaviour; this means that we process new information, make judgements and assimilate new information as it relates to our current self-concept. The self-reference effect focuses our attention on information that relates more strongly to our self-concept. Information or detail that has significance attracts more focused attention from us.

It has been suggested that the self-reference effect allows us to process information and remember information with ease if it has higher personal relevance for us. This process of ‘elaborative processing’ ensures that we are able to connect new pieces of information to existing pieces of information that we have already memorised. In addition, any information that has specific relevance for us, self-relevant information will be more easy to categories in our self-concept and thus become more easily remembered; this process is referred to as ‘categorical processing’ (Baron & Byrne: 2000).

While the self-concept is derived from many components, these components have more or lesser degrees of relevance based on whether they are central or peripheral to our self-concept. Our central self-concepts have a stronger bearing on our perception of who we are on a base level, in other words we may describe ourselves as loyal, volatile or caring. The peripheral self-concepts are an extension of the central components, for example we may describe ourselves as quite pedantic or relatively easy-going. The central components are more strongly inculcated into who we are and are thus more difficult to influence, our peripheral components are more easily adjusted, manipulated or adjusted because they are an extension of the ‘core’ components.

The self-concept may comprise other content areas with specific reference to the cognitive representation of that content area. For example, the sexual self-schema is a description of who we are in relation to our cognitive thinking around the ‘sexual’ aspects. This schema has specific reference to passion, romance and our attitude to thoughts and actions pertaining to our sexual identity.

The social self-concept can be divided into sub-categories as they relate to different areas of socialising. The social self-concept may be comprised of sub-categories for the family environment, work environment, Sunday golfing environment etc. As we age, our social self-concept increases in diversity and has better definition as it becomes more stable (Byrne & Shavelson: 1996).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2: The Social Self - Concept

Above is a social self-concept diagram that may pertain to an adolescent or young child as the general social self-concept is sub-divided into two main categories of social experience; that of the school and the family environment. In addition, each of these categories is further sub-divided into the components that may impact on the social self-concept in each environment. While this is a simple diagram, in reality the social self-concept has significantly more sub-categories and hence significantly more social environments that impact upon it.

The self-concept is seen to be fluid, in that it is developing as we grow. It is not a stagnant concept but one that can change and is referred to as a ‘working self-concept’ (Baron & Byrne: 2000). Our experiences impact on and add to our current self-concept, creating new possible selves, changing our mind-set and motivation and indeed our understanding of others and ourselves. This idea of the potentially changing self-concept can have tremendous significance for the adolescent, particularly when we view the tremendous possibilities awaiting them in the world beyond school. Focusing on future careers and life-paths has significantly more option for the adolescent when they are able to open themselves to the possibility of the ‘working self-concept’; being open to the potential for change may introduce them to new prospects in the world of tertiary studies and the world of work. While it is agreed that each adolescent has a distinct core self-concept, different social environments and interactions have the potential to create a social self-concept and together the two can work harmoniously when aligned but can also create conflict in the individual when they are essentially different poles of the individual’s self-concept.

The self-concept has obvious bearing on our level of self-esteem. The self-esteem extends from our self-concept and refers to our evaluation of ourselves. Naturally this evaluation may be either positive or negative depending on our self-concept.


Our self-evaluation has been described according to three levels: self-assessment in that we aim to attain accurate knowledge of who we are, self-enhancement in an attempt to gain positive feedback as we evaluate ourselves and self-verification which is our motivation to attain affirmation that our self-evaluations are accurate and valid.

Naturally, an individual who likes their evaluation of the self can be defined as having a high self-esteem. How then does the self-esteem (evaluation) get to be ‘high’ as opposed to others who see themselves in a negative light and thus perpetuate a ‘low’ self-esteem mind-set? The evaluation of the self is based on the evaluations or opinions of others and a result of our life-experiences. Sadly our evaluation of the self has the potential to influence our cognitive reaction to our own success or failure and our self-esteem will influence our emotional reaction to these successes or failures. Put very simply, if one has a ‘low’ self-esteem his successes will be minimalized and the failures are over emphasized.

We have a tendency to evaluate ourselves against others (Brown: 1992). These judgements on our abilities in relation to those around us have the potential to contribute towards the over-all evaluation of high or low self-esteem. Hence, our successes or failures as individuals are evaluated against our social or peer group and thus can perpetuate our self-esteem evaluation. When we experience evaluations that create feelings that are positive these will enhance a positive or high self-esteem, while experiences that make us feel less positive about ourselves will enhance a negative or low self-esteem.

Why then would it be of such significance whether an individual has a ‘high’ or ‘low’ self-esteem? It seems almost obsolete to suggest that there are beneficial results to having a ‘high’ self-esteem. Researchers have identified an increase in serotonin levels in the brain producing a decrease in the potential for aggressive behaviour in individuals. In addition, a ‘high’ self-esteem has been found to increase the immune system and thus help fight-off infection, creating a healthier individual. The self-esteem works as a schema that evaluates future situations in our world. The beauty of a ‘high’ self-esteem is found in future evaluations – individuals will ‘focus’ on more positive input and spend less time focused on negative input that does not align with their ‘high’ self-esteem.

Is the self-esteem a stable entity?

It has been postulated that while self-esteem can be changed with appropriate therapy, Carl Rogers being one of the earliest psychologists to work with enhancing self-esteem in his clients. Negative self-esteem can become more positive with time but the individual with a ‘low’ self-esteem seems to display fluctuating levels of self-esteem with the result that the situation that the individual finds himself in is a strong determinant of their evaluation of their self-esteem at that moment.


Gender pertains to so much more than an individual’s sex. If asked to identify one’s sex, the response is fairly clear-cut; we define ourselves as being male or female in relation to our anatomical and physiological characteristics. These distinguishing characteristics are determined at a genetic level and in most cases; the ‘sex’ of the infant child is set for life. Our gender however is a much more complex definition and relates to more ancillary aspects such as our behaviour, our attitude, the role we fulfil in society and our preferences; all having specific reference to our culture’s identification of what constitutes ‘being’ male or female in that particular society. By way of example, nursing as an occupation may be perceived in some cultures as a female career, while in others the roles may be less defined and thus it may be quite socially acceptable for males to follow a career in nursing. Each individual culture holds its own evaluation of maleness and femaleness. It is proposed that differences in gender can have a biological component, a learned component or a combination of the two (Aube, Norcliffe & Koestner: 1995). It would be remiss not to mention the continuum that is gender, the ‘range’ between maleness and femaleness that includes homosexuality, bisexuality, inter-sexed, transsexual genders to mention but a few of the variations on the continuum.

Gender Stereotypes and Identity

Our gender identity, for most of us is fairly clear, our self-concept is rooted in our being ‘male’ or ‘female’ as our biological sex and our gender are aligned; children will identify themselves from a very young age as being a boy or a girl and will make judgements about the sex of their peers in this black-and-white manner. However, there is a small portion of the population in which gender identity differs from sex (Baron & Byrne: 2000).


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Social Psychology: Social Identity
( Atlantic International University )
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social identity, identity, societal, social
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Gary Elliott (Author), 2013, Social Psychology: Social Identity, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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