Social identity theory: A conceptual and empirical critique from the perspective of a behavioural interaction model


  • Jacob M. Rabbie,

  • Jan C. Schot,

  • Lieuwe Visser

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    • This paper is based on earlier publications of Rabbie, Schot and Visser (1987), Rabbie, Schot, Mojet and Visser (1988), Rabbie and Horwitz (1988) and Horwitz and Rabbie (1989). It can therefore be considered as a real group product. We thank all the others for their inspiration and assistance.


After a conceptual and methodological critique of Social Identity Theory (SIT), it is argued, in sharp contrast to SIT but consistent with a Behavioural Interaction Model (BIM), that the allocations in the standard Minimal Group Paradigm (MGP) —which provide the main evidence for SIT— can be best reinterpreted as instrumental, rational behaviour aimed at maximizing the economic self-interests of the subjects rather than efforts on their part to strive for a positive social identity as SIT has claimed. Explicit social categorization appears to be only one of the many unit-forming factors which may affect allocations within and between group boundaries in the MGP.

Group polarization effects indicate that groups, guided by their perceived interdependence on the recipients of their allocations seem more rational and effective than their individual members prior to the group discussion in maximizing their economic outcomes.

Finally, it is concluded that BIM provides probably a more parsimonious explanation of all the usualfindings obtained by the standard MGP than SIT.