LILA ~ Learning Innovations Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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When we are uncertain, we turn to our group

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Michael Hogg’s shared his research on the role social identity and uncertainty. Just giving a groups a categorical names can create in group and out group dynamics: individuals trust, favor and conform to their in group and distrust, discriminate, and compete with the out group.   This research forms the foundation of social identity theory – the relationship between self and group. And what motivates this is often feeling better about oneself.


Michael’s work looks more specifically at a specific kind of uncertainty, identity uncertainty.   Overall, individuals are motivated to reduce uncertainty. And there are many sources of identity uncertainty – loosing your job, having children, moving to a new country, etc. When folks are dealing with uncertainty, social identity gives people a way to help make sense of their experiences to help them reduce uncertainty.


A key finding is that uncertainty strengthens identification with groups. Identification reduces uncertainty and the more entitative a group the stronger the effects. Interestingly, when experiencing identity uncertainty, people on the periphery are more apt to engage in radical behaviors to secure their status in the group.


I wonder: What would it look like to de-entitativize a group construct? Would that enable people to cling to it less in the face of uncertainty? What happens with the social identity is actually hindering dealing with the uncertainty?

Harvard Graduate School of Education