Theses Doctoral

Benefits of belonging: Dynamic group identity as a protective resource against psychological threat

Reddy, Kavita

In the face of identity threat, how do people who belong to devalued groups protect themselves from negative outcomes, like poor health and performance? This research focuses on how devalued identities can be harnessed and used to combat vulnerability to poor outcomes. Social identities are central to psychological functioning, but, due in part to a focus on identity's stable, trait-like features, past research on how devalued identities affect outcomes has produced mixed results. Conceptualizing identity as a dynamic, situation-responsive system, three studies test whether activating positive aspects of a threatened group protects against negative outcomes specifically in threatening situations.

Study 1 establishes that affirming groups effectively buffers against underperformance resulting from stereotype threat and that some people choose to affirm the very group that is threatened. Study 2 tests whether affirming aspects of the threatened identity also allows one to maintain personal and collective self-esteem and whether effects depend on how one construes belonging to the group (i.e., unique group member, typical group member, unique individual). Whereas performance and personal self-esteem were equal across conditions, collective self-esteem was boosted after affirming oneself as a unique group member, suggesting that identity as defined and optimized by the individual confers benefits.

Study 3 tests the situational-specificity of these protective effects and shows that highly-valued identity knowledge predicted lower levels of distress and higher performance only when activated in response to discrimination and not to other situations. Across all three studies, measures of stable identification did not consistently predict outcomes in threatening or non-threatening situations. At the core of the approach adopted in these three studies is an interplay between person and situation in defining identity. This approach presents a fuller picture of the multi-faceted functional role of identity and demonstrates the utility of studying identity in context.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Downey, Geraldine
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 6, 2012