Complementing Individualism with The Social Identity Approach

Have you ever thought about where your strong moral convictions (if any) come from? For example, let`s assume you feel strongly about the sacredness of the Qur’an, and feel outraged when someone mocks your Holy Book. Or, alternatively, you feel strongly about freedom of speech, and hence feel outraged when those mocking a holy book are threatened and attacked by those who perceive this as a transgression of their sacred values. Is it, in these cases, a strictly personal part of who you are that reacts so strongly, or is your conviction perhaps derived from important groups you are a member of? Although strong  moral conviction may, from an outside perspective, appear to be very much of an individual thing, I suggest in this article that we should consider the possibility that, in reality, this is not always the case. By proposing that moral convictions can also stem from the multitude of groups that individuals are members of, I will illustrate the larger point that individualism, which I define loosely here as a line of thought that attributes individuals` behavior to their personality characteristics, is complemented with the so-calledsocial identity approach.

The key reason for this is that groups are part and parcel of our social lives. Groups fulfill our needs for belongingness, affiliation, and meaning, and they can help us get what we need, want, and feel entitled to (e.g., Ellemers, Spears, & Doosje, 2002). Evolutionary psychologists claim that we have evolved as social animals (e.g., Caporael, 19972007), and indeed, it seems we have come to be particularly "herdy" ones: We only too easily conform to majorities, and obey authorities (e.g., Asch, 1955Milgram, 1963). We are very sensitive to group norms (Turner, 1991), and fear social exclusion (e.g., Kurzban & Leary, 2001). Perhaps for these reasons, individuals will like those who are like us and dislike those unlike us (e.g., Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Yet, many psychological theories that explain human functioning and behavior do not seem to care much for this important element of social life. After all, if an individual looks and sounds like an individual, then certainly his or her thoughts, feelings, tendencies, and behavior must be characteristic of that individual. Right?

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