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When Am I My Group? Self-Enhancement Versus Self-Justification Accounts of Perceived Prototypicality


The tendency to view the self as a prototypic member of a group is thought to be at the foundation of many social psychological phenomena. Two opposing accounts of perceived prototypicality have been suggested in the psychological literature. The self-justification account portrays this as a defensive tendency that occurs in response to threatened group status. The self-enhancement account portrays this as a strategic tendency to associate the self with positively viewed groups. These competing views were tested using both a minimal group (Study 1) and a naturalistic group (Study 2). Both studies showed that perceived prototypicality increased with increasing group status. Moreover, the effect of status was moderated by group importance (Study 1) and behavioral choice (Study 2). Both interaction patterns supported the self-enhancement view, suggesting that people view themselves as prototypic group members when doing so will promote a positive identity. These findings contradict common statements in the social identity literature.

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Correspondence to Melissa Burkley.

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Burkley, M., Blanton, H. When Am I My Group? Self-Enhancement Versus Self-Justification Accounts of Perceived Prototypicality. Soc Just Res 18, 445 (2005).

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Key Words

  • prototypicality
  • self-stereotyping
  • self-enhancement
  • self-justification
  • social identity
  • system justification