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Evolutionary Perspectives on Social Identity

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Evolutionary Perspectives on Social Psychology

Part of the book series: Evolutionary Psychology ((EVOLPSYCH))

Abstract

A complete understanding of the psychology of social identity requires not only descriptions of how social identification processes work but also an account of why the underlying psychological mechanisms have evolved. This chapter focuses on the evolution of coalitional (or “tribal”) social identity (i.e., the type of social identity associated with nationality, ethnicity, religion, and class). Coalitional social identity appears to involve a readiness to incur costs for the collective, which may yield cooperative benefits. However, it has not been obvious why reaping the benefits of intragroup cooperation would be facilitated by social identification processes. We suggest that social identity may be related to the signaling of coalitional membership and cooperative intent. Specifically, we argue that social identity may constitute a self-represented summary of the loyalty-signaling characteristics that one has acquired. Based on this hypothesized ultimate function of social identity, we derive predictions regarding the proximate psychology of social identity. We suggest that further research may examine whether social identity involves private social identities (for balancing costs and benefits of group membership) and public social identities (for strategically influencing the behavior of others).

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For some, it might seem obvious that the function of an automobile is locomotion. However, for a naïve observer, the function may not be obvious at all. The observer may note that an automobile burns fuel, disrupts airflow, makes noise, and sometimes causes accidents, and take any one of these to be its function. Obviously, different conjectures regarding function (e.g., locomotion vs. fuel burning) yield different hypotheses regarding form.

  2. 2.

    There are several influential perspectives that are relevant to social identity and intergroup psychology. One notable perspective is terror management theory (TMT), which explains many human psychological phenomena—including intergroup bias—as resulting from motivations to uphold cultural worldviews (which, in turn, exist to assuage anxieties about death). Interestingly, evolutionary psychologists have attempted to explain many of the TMT-related phenomena as manifestations of coalitional psychology (e.g., Navarrete and Fessler 2005). Thus, this is another example of an explanation relying on intrapsychic needs being updated by a more contemporary evolutionary psychological perspective.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Pascal Boyer for his helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Justin H. Park Ph.D. .

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Park, J., van Leeuwen, F. (2015). Evolutionary Perspectives on Social Identity. In: Zeigler-Hill, V., Welling, L., Shackelford, T. (eds) Evolutionary Perspectives on Social Psychology. Evolutionary Psychology. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-12697-5_9

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