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Evaluate Social Identity Theory sample essay

Social identity theory is designed by Tajfel and Turner (1979) to explain how it is that people develop a sense of membership and belonging in particular groups, and how the mechanics of intergroup discrimination. Several interconnected mechanisms are at work with social identity theory. The core idea is that people tend to seek out-group membership as an affirmation of self-esteem, but that membership in a group alone is not enough to build self-esteem. To feel more self esteem, people have to believe that they are in the right group, which creates the need for a positive distinction from other groups. There are three cognitive processes that are Social Categorisation, Social Identification and Social Comparison. Tajfel and his colleagues divided some schoolboys in to 2 different groups, they allocated them randomly into the groups but the participants thought that the groups were defined by their preferences to paintings.

They had to give out points to the in-group and the out-group but were not allowed to give points to themselves. The participants would favour people in their group rather than the participants of the other group. In many cases the participants would sacrifice points for their group just to increase the difference between the groups. The participants would give 7 points to their own group and give the other group 1, although they could have given 13 to each group. This shows that you can be easily be put in a group for a minor thing and you would stick together and go against the other group and see them as the enemy without having any real reason.

Caroline Howarth carried out the second research. The participants all lived in the Brixton area, which was seen as a poor and violent place and also where a lot of black people were thought to have lived there and were thought of being the main cause of violence. Within the first set of focus groups (total of 7), she asked teenagers to talk about Brixton, she asked them to ‘tell me about Brixton – what it is like for you to live here and how people outside Brixton think about Brixton’. Howarth used a topic guideline to ensure that central research questions were always covered (on community, inclusion, exclusion, identity, ethnicity, the media, prejudice, racism, the school).

The organisation of focus groups into friendship groups made it possible for participants to discuss these experiences with admirable confidence, maturity and understanding. It can, nonetheless, be difficult for the social researcher to access such sensitive material. When the moderator is an outsider and when research participants assume (often correctly) that the researcher has little experience of the kind of discrimination and challenges to self-esteem that pervade their lives, mistrust and suspicion may harm the research relationship. The girls answered positively and were happy to be from Brixton and did not want to move away and did not see any problems. This would shock people, as they would have thought people would move away if they had the chance. They are creating a social identity, as they are happy to be a part of the Brixton identity.

There are some problems with this study as there are some ethical issues, they were deceived as they were lied to in the Tajfel study as they were just randomly picked and had nothing to do with their views on the paintings. Whereas the Howarth study they were not deceived which is a good way to carry out a study but they might have lied with their answers to please the examiner and have changed their behavior to be positive and not how that even the people who live there think the same as everyone else.

Both of these studies are valid as the research supports the theory and the results can be applied to everyday life. The Tajfel study shows how people at school in the playground group and pick the group they have the most in common with and communicate with them and if they do not seem to have anything in common they would not stay there. The second study by Howarth can also be applied in everyday life as people create social identity all the time, if a place is thought of negatively by people who do not live their then the people who do can make a social identity and be happy and have positive thoughts about this area and not agree with the others.

The theory seems to be a good and plausible theory as the research supports the theory that people automatically divide the social world into the in-group (people like me) and the out-group (people who are not like me). The people see the people in their group as similar to them but 2 different groups seem to be so different from each other when not in all cases they are that different from each other.

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