Tag Archives: group membership

Why do we join groups?

By Kevin R. Betts

It seems that we are all a member of at least one group; most of us are a member of many. Although our membership within some of these groups is probably involuntary (e.g., family), we go out of our way to join other groups. We join book clubs, bowling leagues, congregations, and tag-football teams, just to name a few. Some of us even go so far as to join extremist groups such as terrorist cells or violent political movements. What draws us to seek membership within these varied groups? Why are we willing to sacrifice our own time, energy, and resources for the sake of the groups to which we belong?

Hogg, Hohman, and Rivera (2008) examined these questions from a social-psychological perspective by contrasting three motivational accounts for group membership. These explanations originate from work on the sociometer model, terror management theory, and uncertainty-identity theory. The sociometer model argues that people have a need to be belong, and that self-esteem acts as a meter of successful group belonging. Greater feelings of inclusion within groups should equate to higher levels of self-esteem according to this model. Terror management theory argues that people are motivated to reduce fear of their own death, and that groups provide consensual belief-confirmation that drives their members to belong. It is comforting to share our world views with like-minded others and to hear them share similar views because it provides us with a sense of meaningful existence. Uncertainty-identity theory argues that people have a basic need to reduce uncertainty about themselves and their place in the world, and that group identification can reduce such uncertainty. Group membership may reduce this uncertainty through its associated norms that prescribe attitudes, feelings, and behaviors for us.

Hogg et al. (2008) conclude that the sociometer model, terror-management theory, and uncertainty-identity theory each play a role in explaining why people join groups. Yet, they argue that uncertainty-identity theory might provide an especially powerful explanation because of its wide generality to all groups and group contexts. What do you think? Do these explanations account for why you joined the groups that you are a part of, or does some other framework better explain your reasons for group membership?

Read more:

Hogg, M.A., Hohman, Z.P., & Rivera, J.E. (2008). Why do people join groups? Three motivational accounts from social psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 1269-1280.

Inside Al Qaeda (Newsweek)

N.Y. Anti-Mosque Leader Defends Group that Clashed with British Police (Newsweek)

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

Super(ordinate) identities to the rescue!

 

By Erica Zaiser

For over a month now, 33 Chilean miners have been trapped 2,300 feet underground. Just recently a team of American miners went down to Chile to help the miners get out. This rescue mission is very complicated and may take months to complete. It would have been easy for the American mining team to have felt it was not their responsibility to help; freeing the miners will be a difficult, time consuming, and expensive task. However, the American team seems eager to assist. One reason they might be so willing to help the Chileans is because they identify in these circumstances not as Americans but as miners. Thus, their identities as miners acts as a a superordinate identity linking the American men and the the trapped Chileans together regardless of their different nationalities.

Plenty of research in psychology has shown that when you identify with a superordinate social identity prejudice is reduced and that superordinate identity salience can reduce conflict between groups. In the case of the miners, this feeling of a larger group membership (being a miner) may have helped inspire the helping behaviour of the American miners. In an interview with CNN, one of the American miners explained why it was no question that he and his team wanted to help the trapped Chileans, saying, “We have the ability to help them out, and that’s the whole reason we are here. Miners are miners; it doesn’t matter what country they are from.”