Subgroup identities as a key to cooperation within large social groups


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Anna Rabinovich, School of Psychology, University of Exeter, Perry Road, Exeter EX4 4QG, UK (e-mail:


We experimentally investigated the effect of superordinate (i.e. British) versus subordinate (i.e. English) identity salience on willingness to contribute to a resource shared at the superordinate level (the British coast). Contrary to what would be expected from straightforward application of self-categorization theory, two studies demonstrated that willingness to contribute to this shared resource was higher when subordinate (rather than superordinate) identity was activated. To explain this effect, we suggest that subordinate identities sometimes provide a more meaningful basis for self-definition and, when this is the case, activating subordinate level of identity might lay the foundation for enhanced cooperation within higher-order identities. Indeed, consistent with this argument, Study 2 showed that increased meaningfulness and coherence of the self-concept mediated the effect of subordinate identity salience on contributions to the shared (superordinate) resource. The results are discussed with respect to the role of meaning in determining categorization effects.