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Author's Introduction

This article came about from a discussion within a class on Self and Identity taught by Dr. Hogg. Over the course of a 4-week period, several relevant articles from the sociometer hypothesis, terror management theory, and uncertainty identity theory had been presented. This spurred a rather lively discussion over the merits and faults of each of these theories in explaining the purpose groups served in the role of identity. Zachary had heavily researched social identity and terror management theory, Jason was researching social identity and the sociometer hypothesis, and Dr. Hogg was obviously offering the social identity and uncertainty identity perspective. With the three of us all having a piece to the puzzle and the foundation of social identity theory, we decided it would be a good idea to offer a comparison of these theories, trying to capture the essence of the discussion from class. Each of us took responsibility for our respective piece of the puzzle, and the outcome was this article. We felt it was important to offer a teaching and learning guide to this article as it was the result of a discussion from course materials. This will hopefully help bring about future discussions of this topic and others.

Author Recommends

Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Arndt, J., & Schimel, J. (2004). Why do people need self-esteem? A theoretical and empirical review. Psychology Bulletin, 3, 435–468.

This article began the discussion of which theory was more useful, terror management theory or sociometer hypothesis, in explaining the purpose of groups. In the end, the article supported a terror management explanation for the existence of groups. People within the terror management camp supported the positions within this article.

Leary, M. R. (2004). The function of self-esteem in terror management theory and sociometer theory: Comment on Pyszczynski et al. (2004). Psychology Bulletin, 130, 478–482.

This article was a rebuttal from the sociometer theory camp. It argued that both sociometer and terror management had valid arguments in explaining the purpose of groups. However, Leary noted that both have shortcomings in their own right that do not adequately explain group function.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

This is the seminal piece in social identity theory and offers important foundational information for the purpose and function of groups. It is an important point of commonality to have when engaging in discussions of the purpose and function of groups.

Hogg, M. A. (2006). Social identity theory. In P. J. Burke (Ed.), Contemporary social psychological theories (pp. 111–136). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

This offers an update of social identity theory and situates the theory to include the more recent findings and additions to the theory. It is an important article to include when understanding the modern perspective of social identity theory.

Leary, M. R., Tambor, E. S., Terdal, S. K., & Downs, D. L. (1995). Self-esteem as an interpersonal monitor: The sociometer hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 518–530.

This article introduced the original sociometer hypothesis. Again, this article is a necessary inclusion when addressing the issue of the function of groups.

Leary, M. R., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). The nature and function of self-esteem: Sociometer theory. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 32, pp. 1–62). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

This is the update to the sociometer theory that includes many of the empirical findings that had occurred since the theory's inception.

Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., & Solomon, S. (1986). The causes and consequences of a need for self-esteem: A terror management theory. In R. F. Baumeister (Ed.), Public and private self (pp. 189–212). New York, NY: Springer-Verlag.

This introduced terror management theory and offers the foundational principles that underpin the theory.

Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., & Pyszczynsky, T. (1997). Terror management theory of self-esteem and cultural worldviews: Empirical assessments and conceptual refinements. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 29, pp. 61–139). New York, NY: Academic Press.

This is an update that offered the most current findings and adjustments to terror management theory. This helped clarify many of the concepts within the theory and bring the theory into its most modern form.

Hogg, M. A. (2000). Subjective uncertainty reduction through self-categorization: A motivational theory of social identity processes. European Review of Social Psychology, 11, 223–255.

The article was the first incarnation of uncertainty identity theory where it was used an explanation for the motivations behind social identity principles that drew people to join groups for some sense of identity.

Hogg, M. A. (2007). Uncertainty-identity theory. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 39, pp. 69–126). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

This is the update and most current conception of the theory that Hogg has presented. It is very useful to have this article in understanding how uncertainty identity theory is currently viewed and used having added in several years of empirical findings and support that refined the theory.

Online Materials

This is a link to the journal Self and Identity. This is a nice place to find some of the current issues being researched in the field of self and identity. It is also a nice journal to send students to who are having trouble locating recent articles for class.

This is a link to a 1978 Time article discussing the Peoples Temple cult in Guyana and the resultant mass suicide. This is an interesting article to have students read over as a way to open discussion of how the major theories of sociometer hypothesis, terror management theory, and uncertainty identity theory all may have played a role in this one case of an extremist group.

This represents a collection of the recruitment tapes Osama bin Laden uses to recruit for his terrorist organization. These clips could be analyzed to understand what motives and techniques bin Laden uses to recruit people to his cause. Specifically, one could use the major theories to determine which theories best explain this type of extremist group.

This is a link to a DVD that can be purchased that has a decent coverage of cults throughout history and how they bring people into these groups. Discussions can come from viewing this video about the types of people drawn to these groups and the techniques used to recruit these people. Analyzing these techniques using the theories discussed in class offers a very useful tool for engaging the material.

Sample Syllabus

Overview

This is a 4-unit, one-semester course that explores the social psychology of self and identity. It has a relatively comprehensive coverage of both classic and contemporary contributions, focusing mainly on theory and constructive criticism of theory, including the real-world relevance and practical utility of theory. Some background in or exposure to social psychology is assumed.

The course adopts a seminar format in which students are allocated readings to study and discuss in class, with groups of students taking it in turn to lead the class discussion. There will be six 2-/3-person groups, with each group leading two sessions.

Assessment

Assessment comprises two essays. These can be a literature review, a critique, a position paper, or a research proposal.

A mid-term essay (8–10, double-spaced pages, excluding refs) due in class on March 9. This represents one third of total course assessment.

A final essay (15–20, double-spaced pages, excluding refs) due in class on May 4. This represents two thirds of total course assessment.

Reading

There are four categories of reading.

A general framework and background to the topic is provided by two handbook chapters. You should all read them over the course of the semester:

Baumeister, R. F. (1998). The self. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (4th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 680–740). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Sedikides, C., & Gregg, A. P. (2003). Portraits of the self. In M. A. Hogg & J. Cooper (Eds.), The Sage handbook of social psychology (pp. 110–138). London, UK: Sage.

The following is an edited handbook of self and identity. You should all read those chapters that are relevant to the topics we study and to your assignment choices.

Leary, M. R., & Tangney, J. P. (Eds.) (2003). Handbook of self and identity. New York, NY: Guilford.

The following is a collection of key readings– many of the assigned weekly readings are taken from this book, which is coded as SSP in the course schedule below. Note that you will each only read one of the three weekly readings (readings will be assigned in the first class) – in this way, there will be unshared information in each class. The book also has a number of introductory/link pieces by Baumeister that you should all read.

Baumeister, R. F. (Ed.) (1999). The self in social psychology. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.

You will also be set the task each week of going to the library to find one relevant recent article (i.e. with a publication date of 2004–2007) to read and be prepared to present in class. The key social psychology journals to look in first are:

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

Personality and Social Psychology Review

European Journal of Social Psychology

Group Processes and Intergroup Relations

Self and Identity

Social Psychology Quarterly

Journal of Social Issues

Self-esteem, self-enhancement, and narcissism

Baumeister, R. F., Smart, L., & Boden, J. M. (1996). Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. SSP, reading 13.

Campbell, J. (1990). Self-esteem and clarity of the self-concept. SSP, reading 12.

Leary, M. R., Tambor, E. S., Terdal, S. K., & Downs, D. L. (1995). Self-esteem as an interpersonal monitor: The sociometer hypothesis. SSP, reading 5.

Assessment, verification, and enhancement

Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., & Solomon, S. (2004). Why do people need self-esteem? A the oretical and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 435–468.

Sedikides, C. (1993). Assessment, enhancement, and verification determinants of the self-evaluation process. SSP, reading 20.

Sedikides, C., & Strube, M. J. (1997). Self-evaluation: To thine own self be good, to thine own self be sure, to thine own self be true, and to thine own self be better. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 29, pp. 209–296). New York, NY: Academic Press.

Social identity theory

Hogg, M. A. (2006). Social identity theory. In P. J. Burke (Ed.), Contemporary social psychological theories (pp. 111–136). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Turner, J. C. (1985). Social categorization and the self-concept: A social cognitive theory of group behaviour. In E. J. Lawler (Ed.), Advances in group processes: Theory and research (Vol. 2, pp. 77–122). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Focus Questions

  • 1) 
    What types of groups or group phenomena do the theories of the sociometer hypothesis, terror management theory, and uncertainty identity theory help explain and why?
  • 2) 
    How do major theories differ in explaining how a person forms their identity?
  • 3) 
    How do terror management theory and uncertainty identity theory differ in their conceptions of the function of groups in forming individual identity?
  • 4) 
    How could one empirically test whether uncertainty identity theory and terror management theory are measuring different phenomena?
  • 5) 
    Can a person have an identity without some type of group context? Why?

Seminar/Project Idea

Individual Paper: Literature Review, Critique, or Research Proposal on Self and Identity

Based on the knowledge gained throughout the course, each student will be responsible for writing a 15- to 20-page paper regarding one of the many issues discussed in this course. Students can choose to write a literature review, critique, or research proposal for this paper. For the literature review, students must identify a particular field or phenomena to focus on and offer a review of relevant literature and assess what conclusions or questions are inherent from the research. The critique allows students to examine a particular issue in the field of self and identity and offer a critical analysis. Students should present all sides of the issue and then offer their own insight into the debate. Finally, students choosing to pursue a research proposal should identify an issue needing further study in the field. Students will need to offer relevant previous research to frame this proposal and then design a study that would help clarify this issue empirically. Be sure to include any discussion of the implications of the hypotheses if they were found to be true in the proposed study.