Social identity complexity  

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Social Identity Complexity: Who is "We"?

Given the recognition that individuals belong to multiple social groups, with multiple corresponding social identities, an important question to be addressed is how individuals combine these group identities when they define their subjective in-group. More specifically, do multiple group memberships lead to more inclusive or less inclusive in-groups, when compared to single group identities?

The concept of Social Identity Complexity (Roccas & Brewer, 2002) is a theoretical construct that refers to an individual's subjective representation of the interrelationships among his or her multiple group identities. Social identity complexity reflects the degree of overlap perceived to exist between groups of which a person is simultaneously a member.

Roccas & Brewer also report that membership in many different groups (multiple social identities) can lead to greater social identity complexity, which can foster the development of superordinate social identities and global identity, making international identity more likely in individualist cultures (see Tajfel & Turner (1986) for a review of social identity theory. Poetics like coolitude or creolization have used the coral or the rhizome to refer to multiple identities.

Social identity complexity is also related to higher importance of openness to change and universalism values, lower importance of conservatism and power values, and higher tolerance for diversity.

Social identity complexity may be a crucial factor to consider in applying social psychological models of bias reduction.


  • Roccas, S. & Brewer M. B. (2002). Social identity complexity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6, 88 - 106.
  • Tajfel, H. & Turner, J. C. (1986). The social identity theory of inter-group behavior. In S. Worchel & W. G. Austin (Eds.) Psychology of intergroup relations (2nd ed., 7 - 24). Chicago, IL: Nelson Hall.

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