Tajfel's social identity theory

Tajfel's social identity theory

Have you ever wondered why in a football match the followers of a team tend to fight with those of the opposing team? Or, why very nationalistic people can qualify as members of other countries? In this article we explain these issues through an important theory within the Social psychology: from Tajfel's theory of social identity.


  • 1 What is Tajfel's social identity theory?
  • 2 The phases of the creation of the identity of the endogroup and the exogroup
  • 3 The development of group identification

What is Tajfel's social identity theory?

In 1979, studying the keys of the identification of the individual with certain groups, the psychologist Henri Tajfel proposes the Social identity theory. This theory is a principle that affirms that the groups to which we belong define us and form part of our self-assessment, configuring in an important way bases for our self esteem. From our identity with the group, we feel a security and determination that defines us and that is why we seek the best assessment for that group.

Thus, this theory explains how the concept that an individual has of himself can be explained through the group to which he belongs and his way of acting varies according to the group in which he is.

That is why we tend to categorize the group with which we identify, from now on the endogroup, as part of us endowing it with positive qualities, while categorizing people who belong to other groups or exogroups, as adversaries, opponents or simply different from us by granting them negative qualities

The phases of the creation of the identity of the endogroup and the exogroup

According to Tajfel's social identity theory, the process through which we come to possess the endogroup or exogroup mentality goes through three delimited phases:

  1. Categorization Phase. In this phase we tend to categorize outsiders and ourselves into groups of belonging, in order to try to identify according to these. This is the case when when we meet a person we obtain information to get a global “idea” of them. In this way we can classify a person in the group of “liberal”, “lawyer”, “heterosexual” or “Real Madrid”, for example, to try to guess what his personality or behavior will be according to the group to which he belongs.
  2. Social Identification Phase Once we identify with a specific group, we try to act in the way that best suits the standards of this group. This is very important for our self-esteem as it creates a sense of agreement in our values. For example, if we identify with a political group that has specific values, we will try to act according to these values. This gives us stability and makes our concept of ourselves positive.
  3. Social Comparison Phase: Already identified with a specific group, we tend to negatively qualify members of different groups, the exogroup. This creates a stronger group conscience and increases our self-esteem. Thus, the followers of a specific football team usually rate the opponents of the opposing group negatively.

The development of group identification

When members of a group are fully identified with it, they usually carry out certain behaviors that help to unite the group. These behaviors usually influence the differences between the main group and the exogroups, although these differences are not of such caliber. While inequalities with other groups are perceived as greater, the differences between the same members of the group are minor: although individuals are different from each other, they will tend to be perceived as equal. further members of the same group will tend to rate themselves positively and the other groups more negatively.

Identification with a group is important for our sense of belonging and security, however it can lead us to create prejudices towards those who do not belong to our group. This sometimes manages to jeopardize coexistence in society, as well as giving rise to discrimination and even hate. That is why sometimes individuals should have enough strength to look beyond what they see as their own or what their own group imposes on them and to treat other human beings openly and without prejudice.

Links of interest

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In S. Worchel & W. G. Austin (Eds.),Psychology ofintergroup relations (2nd ed., pp. 7-24). Chicago: Nelson-Hall.