Self-categorization Theory

Henri Tajfel passed away in 1982, but work on the social identity approach to intergroup/intercultural communication was just heating up, so the late John Turner (Tajfel’s student and colleague) continued the work with others-they attempted to explain how certain social identities (as explained by Social Identity Theory) are cognitively activated within people’s brains, and their answer to this question was Self-categorization Theory (SCT).

Selfl-categorization theory predicts that certain learned prototypical/stereotypical social identities, or categories of identities, become ‘activated’  in individuals based on the most salient, or important, factors in any given context and situation.

For example, someone who plays intramural sports may feel quite athletic, and activate an internal social identity of being an athlete, when comparing themselves to peers who do not play intramural sports. However, if that intramural sports connoisseur finds themselves surrounded by Olympic athletes, chances are good their internal category of ‘athlete’ will not be activated when comparing themselves to world-class Olympic professionals, and instead a social  category and social identity of ‘sports fan’ or something similar will be activated.

This is important because our social identities influence how we perceive other people and how we behave.

There’s a lot more to SCT, including predictions about different levels of identity, such as personal/social/etc., which make it a good theory to help explain how SIT actually works, but the above should help you start thinking about SCT and how it relates to SIT.

Disclaimer: The above post is part of a series on intercultural/intergroup communication theories I did on a former blog.

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