Moving From Personal to Social Identity

Moving From Personal to Social Identity The loss of personal identity does not always produce antisocial behavior. In a study conducted by Robert Johnson and Leslie Downing (1979), female undergraduates donned garments resembling either robes associated with the Ku Klux Klan (a very racist hate group) or nurses’ uniforms. Half of the participants were individually identified throughout the study; the others were not. All of the participants were then given the opportunity to increase or decrease the intensity of electric shocks delivered to a supposed other participant (actually, a confederate in the experiment) who had previously behaved in an obnoxious manner. Participants wearing Ku Klux Klan costumes increased shock levels in both the identified and anonymous conditions. However, among those in nurse’s apparel, anonymous participants decreased shock inten- sity four times more frequently than did identified participants!

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 The social identity model of deindividuation effects (SIDE), which proposes that whether deindividuation affects people for better or for worse reflects the characteristics and norms of the group immediately sur- rounding the individual as well as the group’s power to act according to these norms. As personal identity and internal controls are submerged, social identity emerges and conformity to the group increases. If a group defines itself in terms of prejudice and hatred against another group, for example, deindividuation can ignite an explosion of violence. If a group defines itself in terms of helping others, in contrast, deindividuation may promote prosocial, selfless actions. The conse- quences of losing your personal identity, therefore, depend on what you lose it to.

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