Complementing Individualism with The Social Identity Approach

From this line of thought, it follows that psychological theories that take the individual as their point of departure run the risk of being reductionist in their individualism. The clearest cases of reductionism pertain to psychological theories that assume that what explains individual behavior automatically also explains collective behavior. In the literature on collective action, for example, the classic idea has been for long that individuals are rational actors (i.e., homo economici) that are able to carefully weigh the pros and cons of joining a protest march, or signing a petition (e.g., Olson, 1968). Thus, only if individual benefits outweigh individual costs does collective action ensue. The more modern idea, captured in a recent quantitative research synthesis of this literature (Van Zomeren, Postmes, & Spears, in press), is that a sense of  social identity is crucial for collective action to occur because it helps relatively powerless individuals to perceive, feel, and act on the group level. Indeed, it might not be irrational to engage in collective action even when one`s individual costs outweigh the benefits. After all, these costs and benefits might not be relevant for the individual whose group identity is salient. This already illustrates the general message of this article: That the complementarity of the  social identity approach lies in the recognition of the group-based nature of many psychological mechanisms that are often too easily ascribed to the realm of the individual self. Below I briefly review some applications of thesocial identity approach, and subsequently present a new application of this perspective to one of the pillars of individualism: Individuals`  moral conviction.

Applications of the  social identity approach

The idea that individuals are rational (and groups are not) is quite an old one. In fact, groups were once thought to result in the loss of everything sacred to the rational individual: Loss of self, loss of self-control, loss of accountability, and loss of rationality (e.g., LeBon, 1895). Group behavior was thus viewed as something clearly irrational, and, by inference and experience, something dangerous. LeBon`s (1895) concept of the  group mind, a rather supernatural force, was thought to possess individuals in crowds, resulting in their enactment of the impulsive and irrational passions of the collective. Much later, Zimbardo`s (1969) influential  deindividuation theory still suggested this core idea: That deindividuated individuals are likely to fall prey to anti-social behavior (see also Zimbardo, 2008). A quantitative research synthesis suggested however that there was little empirical support for  deindividuation theory across the board (Postmes & Spears, 1998). Postmes and Spears (1998) found that results were more in line with a group norm account:  Deindividuation appeared to result in conformity to group norms. If these norms were anti-social, anti-social behavior resulted, but when these norms were pro-social, pro-social behavior resulted. Thus, adherence to group norms seemed more influential than individuals` state of  deindividuation.

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