Social Psychology Section




By Alex Barker, PhD Student, University of Nottingham


I am going to discuss a fairly recent concept to social psychology, the Social Identity Model of Identity Change (SIMIC). I’m aiming to provide an overview of this topic and provide examples to explain this concept to you and hopefully give you a deeper understanding of what this concept is and how it relates to my PhD research where I am exploring the role of social identity in people with multiple sclerosis (MS).


So, first of all, what is social identity?


Social identity theory was first coined by Tajfel and Turner in the 1970’s and 1980’s (Tuner & Reynolds 2010) and refers to the sense of self that a person gains from seeing themselves as part of a relevant social group. To put this in an example, a person might feel that being a student is a big part of their identity and feel that belonging to this social group (students) is an important part of who they are (their self concept).


Since then the theory has gone through some changes, namely, a related approach was devised following criticism of the original theory. In response social categorisation theory was developed, and looked at the self, and group processes using the insights of social identity theory (Tuner & Reynolds 2010). Nowadays, the theories are grouped together to form the social identity approach, drawing on aspects of both theories.


What happens when identity changes?


Sometimes, a person’s social identity can change. This could be due to anticipated life changes, such as when you finish your degree and go out into the big (scary) wide world or sudden life changes such as the result of an illness. How do changes to social identity affect a person? Well, the short answer is that a life changing transition can have a negative effect on a person’s well-being (Haslam, Holme et al. 2008, Haslam, Jetten et al. 2009, Jetten 2012)


Many aspects of the self are lost as a consequence of a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) (Boeije, Duijnstee et al. 2002, Irvine, Davidson et al. 2009). A persons’ identity is replaced by negative self concepts, which have been associated with poor psychological well-being (Haslam, Holme et al. 2008).


However, SIMIC shows that this effect can be reduced or moderated by certain social factors. Life changes do seem to affect some people more than others. Whilst a loss of social identity can have negative effects on well-being, social relationships can also have a positive effect on well-being (Haslam, Jetten et al. 2009), having the ability to take on new relationships following a life changing transition can be a way of protecting yourself from the harmful effects of identity change (Jetten 2012).


Another way of protecting yourself from the effects of identity change, comes from the fact that many of us belong to many different social groups (Jetten 2012). By having different social contacts and maintaining these after the life changing transition, ensuring they are still compatible, has been shown to be associated with life satisfaction scores (Haslam, Holme et al. 2008). For example, a number of people diagnosed with MS may find that they are not the healthy person that they were before, however, they still identify with their family group and receive support in this way (Irvine, Davidson et al. 2009, Boland, Levack et al. 2012).


What does this mean, in the “real world”?


By understanding how to protect against the harmful effects of identity change, we can protect people from this. By building new relationships compatible with the emerging identity of a person with MS, or by making sure that previous identities, such as a family member, are compatible with the MS identity, we may be able to reduce the negative effects of identity change.


What have we found so far?


So far a meta-synthesis of the qualitative data has showed that there can be benefits from receiving support from a previously established social group, the family, following a diagnosis of MS. This supports the social identity model of identity change.


A systematic review is currently being set up with the Cochrane Collaboration to see if group interventions have the same outcomes for people with MS and low mood, as individual interventions. We are exploring whether a social format of intervention can help the emerging identity of a person with MS, and reduce the damaging effects of identity change.


What are we doing next?


Whilst, it has been acknowledged that not all the effects of a life changing transition are harmful (Jetten, Haslam et al. 2012), the model doesn’t really incorporate positive effects that identity change may have, such as the opportunity for a new start. Qualitative interviews with people with MS will enable us to see if the change of identity has any positive effects and how this related to their adjustment and well-being.


Implementing the model “in the real world” would prove to be difficult. People belong to many different groups and, whilst it is speculated that the effects of being part of a group is the more important factor in determining the effect of the theory, (Jetten, Haslam et al. 2012), it may be the case that some groups may be better at protecting well-being than others. Moreover, there may be individual differences with reference to which social groups are important to people and, as such, can impact positively on identity. Further research into how people identify with different social groups and what common features “important” social groups share will be useful.


The social identity approach is great at explaining events, however it struggles when it comes to having predictive power. Prospective studies testing SIMIC may be useful for improving the validity of the model. A randomised controlled trial with people who have been diagnosed with MS and who have low mood that tests the effects of a group cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) based intervention versus an individual (CBT) based intervention will be a way of testing this. Using measures of social identification we can see the effect that a group intervention format can have on measures of mood.





Boeije, H. R., et al. (2002). "Encountering the downward phase: biographical work in people with multiple sclerosis living at home." Social Science & Medicine 55(6): 881-893.


Boland, P., et al. (2012). "Coping with multiple sclerosis as a couple: 'peaks and troughs' - an interpretative phenomenological exploration." Disability and Rehabilitation 34(16): 1367-1375.


Haslam, C., et al. (2008). "Maintaining group memberships: Social identity continuity predicts well-being after stroke." Neuropsychological Rehabilitation 18(5-6): 671-691.


Haslam, S. A., et al. (2009). "Social Identity, Health and Well-Being: An Emerging Agenda for Applied Psychology." Applied Psychology-an International Review-Psychologie Appliquee-Revue Internationale 58(1): 1-23.


Irvine, H., et al. (2009). "Psychosocial adjustment to multiple sclerosis: exploration of identity redefinition." Disability and Rehabilitation 31(8): 599-606.


Jetten, J., Haslam, A.S., Haslam, C. (2012) The Social Cure: Identity, Health and Well-Being. Hove & New York., Psychology Press.


Jetten, J., Panchana, N.A. (2012). Not wanting to grow old; A social identity model of identity change (SIMIC) analysis of driving cessation among older adults. Jetten, J., Haslam, A.S., Haslam, C. (2012) The Social Cure: Identity, Health and Well-Being. Hove & New York., Psychology Press.


Turner, J. C. & Reynolds, K. J. (2010). The story of social identity. Postmes, T. & Branscombe, N. (Eds). Rediscovering Social Identity: Core Sources. Psychology Press.



Alex Barker is a Post-Graduate Research student at the University of Nottingham, studying for a PhD in Applied Psychology. His research is investigating the role of social identity in explaining low mood in people with multiple sclerosis, to understand how group interventions work.  


E-mail: [email protected]


Twitter: @abbarkerpsych

Orginally posted on 21/05/14

Wed, 25/11/2015 - 21:38

By Daniel Jolley, University of Kent


You may have seen my name crop up before if you follow the @SocialPsychUK’s Twitter feed. I am currently the social psychology postgraduate representative on the PsyPAG committee, which is an organisation that supports postgraduates. SPS is closely linked with PsyPAG, where the postgraduate representative committee positions are entwined. This means I sit on two separate committees with the broad aim of supporting social psychology postgraduates.


SPS is keen to get the involvement of their postgraduate members. Each year we hold a postgraduate workshop before our Annual Conference, which aims to develop postgraduates via a range of thought-provoking sessions. Further, several student bursaries are awarded each year to help with attendance at the conference itself. The postgraduate workshop is organised by the postgraduate representative, and this year is my second time at organising the workshop. I have endeavoured to recruit a variety of prominent scholars in the field to deliver both engaging and interactive sessions to the delegates. I certainly hope from looking at the programme, you agree with this.


From 2014, SPS will be taking over the lead of a social psychology postgraduate conference, which aims to give a platform to postgraduates in the field to present their research in a comfortable environment. This is the first year this conference will be run in this format, and hopefully with the support of social psychology postgraduates, we can make this event a success. Social psychology postgraduate are conducting some fascinating research, and we do want to showcase this. This has further been highlighted by our PsyPAG Annual Conference social psychology symposium, being chaired by SPS committee member Dr Kirsty Budds, this week. We were delighted to receive submission from postgraduates researching an array of interesting topics and diverse methodologies. The submissions demonstrate that social psychology is certainty alive with budding future academics.


Being a postgraduate in today’s economic climate is, however, a challenge. In order to help boost the CV, postgraduates do need to look for ways to get your head above the rest. Certainty getting yourself out there by writing for this blog alone – thus highlighting you and your research – is going to be a great start. Therefore, I do encourage social psychology postgraduates to engage with the section, as this also clearly demonstrates your commitment to the discipline. Being a part of such an organisation can allow you to develop the future of the discipline, whilst also developing yourself.


So, what’s the future for postgraduates? As discussed, the field is alive with budding, talented postgraduates. In order to further help boost the CV, postgraduates should take full advantage of the digital revolution. Rather, with technology at our fingers tips, it is relatively easy to get yourself and your research ‘out there’. Attendance at conferences and workshops is paramount to get your face out there, but you do also need to be thinking about the digital finger print you are leaving. One potential resource is Twitter and building a varied following that can disseminate you and your research widely. This resource can be used on your CV to clearly demonstrate research dissemination to a diverse audience. You can also engage with the section on Twitter via our fortnightly #spschat, which houses a variety of topical discussions. We all use Google to search for people and topics of interest. You need to make sure when others search your research topic, they are finding you!


I have only but great things to say about the SPS committee, and it is a pleasure to work alongside both inspiring and supportive people. I am looking forward to what plans to be an exciting year running the first SPS postgraduate conference. Further, I am particularly keen to hear from the postgraduates in the field. For example, if you have any suggestions for the upcoming postgraduate conference, do get in touch. The engagement of postgraduates in SPS is ever increasing. Your involvement is essential to its continued growth.


About the author:

Daniel Jolley is a second-year PhD student at the University of Kent. He is currently exploring the social consequences of conspiracy theories. If you are interested in Daniel’s research, he regularly blogs about the psychology of conspiracy theories with three other postgraduates:

 Orginally posted on 21/05/14

Wed, 25/11/2015 - 21:36

by Dr Erika Borkoles, Victoria University, Australia


I love social psychology and theories in general. 'There is nothing more practical than a good theory,' wrote Lewin (1952, p.169). I’ll explain why! Commonly, there are two approaches that drive social psychology: theory and a problem. I’ve encountered a ‘problem’, whilst analysing elite golfers’ descriptions of their adolescent dilemmas and experiences when they were trying to make it to the professional circuit. All of the 9 elite athletes clearly struggled with juggling training, competition and other sports commitments (media) whilst trying to finish their basic education, and I was wondering about how to explain these findings.


Previous research has identified that in this critical period of identity development adolescents are under tremendous pressure, from themselves, coaches, family, society and peers, to develop their own path. However, in sport and talent identification this pressure of combining school and sport and its implications on dropout and identity development has not been really discussed. In case of the elite athletes in my sample, as Coakley (1992) suggested, instead of ‘identity exploration’, the reverse seems to happen, resulting in narrowness of identity with a strong focus on ‘being an athlete’. In general, adolescence is a period where there is the largest dropout from sport participation regardless of ability. There had to be a theoretical explanation that went beyond description for what I’ve observed. Suddenly, I’ve remembered reading about Fenzel’s (1989) research on changes in global self-worth and strain during the transition to middle school. He applied the Theory of Role Strain to his work, which also seemed to perfectly explained our data. Bronfenbrenner (1979) defined role “as a set of activities and relations expected of a person occupying a particular position in society” (p.85). An adolescent who is in a crucial stage of identity development will experiment with many roles in this period, each of which can be a potential source of stress. Indeed, Goode (1963) defined role strain as ‘a felt difficulty in meeting role obligations and refers to the subjective nature of role strain’.


I started off with a problem and applied a theory to explain the findings, which was an exciting part of the research. I felt that the theory of role strain is indeed what can explain dropout or the lack of it when adolescents are able to successfully transition to become an elite performer. Role strain consists of role ambiguity, role overload, role underload and role conflict. Each of these constructs can be tested, so we decided to test whether the theory holds or not. After completion of this research, we felt that this phenomenon needs to be further explored and see whether we can test the theory in practice. We wanted to understand how to safeguard adolescents from role strain, which can be detrimental to their well-being self-hood and overall development. Subsequently, we have been successful in getting external funding from the Australian Institute of Sport, Gymnastics Australia and Victoria University ($350,070) for Sporting Success: A longitudinal study of youth sport participation pathway ( The overall aim of this research is to investigate whether fundamental movement skills in early adolescence predict academic success, social engagement, and long-term sport participation, both in elite and non-elite individuals. In four secondary schools we will prospectively track year 7 students for 5 years. In this time the adolescents will complete twice a year 2 x 1 hour survey and a once a year a 2 hour Fundamental Movement Skill test. One aspect of this project is to test the existence of ‘role strain’. We recruited a PhD student, who successfully gained an Australian Postgraduate Award. She is now developing a quantitative survey on Role Strain, which will test our hypothesis and all four aspects of role strain (overload, underload, ambiguity and conflict) to ascertain its impact on the development of adolescents. Originally the theory was derived from a problem. In the Role Strain arm of Sporting Success, firstly we conducted qualitative interviews with elite adolescent athletes, who either had sports scholarships or were sponsored by sport governing bodies. On the basis of this research we generated items to be included in the questionnaire, which is now being validated within four secondary schools. The quantitative data will confirm or disprove the hypothesis and the cycle will begin again, which exemplifies why I love research. The impact of moving through the full cycle of research process is that we can create evidence-based interventions, which will help adolescents to manage their ‘role strain’ more effectively in the future.


Dr Erika Borkoles is a Senior Lecturer, based in the College of Sport and Exercise Science, Victoria University, Australia. She is has published extensively and obtained significant funding for projects in the area of psychological self-regulation and health


Orginally posted on 12/08/13

Wed, 25/11/2015 - 21:35

By Holly Carter, PhD Student, University of Sussex


“Scenes of mass contamination are often scenes of collective hysteria, with hundreds of thousands of victims in a state of panic. Therefore, mass decontamination may require police, security, or rescue supervision to help control panic and keep order.” (Wikipedia, 2013). This is the popular view of public behaviour during incidents involving mass decontamination. Worryingly, it is a view shared by many policy makers and emergency responders.


My research was designed to understand how members of the public are really likely to behave during incidents involving decontamination, and how social psychological theories can aid this understanding. Decontamination is an intervention used by the emergency services in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) incident. It involves anyone who has potentially been contaminated being asked to remove their clothes and undergo a shower, to remove any potential contaminant from their skin.


I carried out a literature review of small-scale incidents involving decontamination, which showed that communication from emergency responders to members of the public was essential for the smooth-running of the decontamination process; failure to communicate effectively resulted in public non-compliance and anxiety. Non-compliance during an incident involving mass decontamination could have extremely serious consequences; it may result in increased spread of any contaminant (Edwards et al., 2006), and therefore increased numbers of dead and injured. Despite this, decontamination guidance documents for responders do not contain any guidance on communicating with members of the public! And emergency responders do not receive any training on how to communicate with members of the public. Instead, a ‘control’ management strategy is often emphasised, based on the idea that members of the public will necessarily ‘panic’, and behave in a ‘disorderly’ way.


Following this, I examined several theories which could inform the development of recommendations for the management of mass decontamination, including health behaviour theories, crowd behaviour theories, and the social identity approach. The social identity approach is particularly useful, in highlighting that crowd events are typically intergroup encounters, in which the actions of one group can impact on the experiences and behaviour of another group.


We applied the social identity approach to develop some specific hypotheses and recommendations for incidents involving mass decontamination. Based on the elaborated social identity model (ESIM: Drury & Reicher, 2000), we hypothesised that effective responder communication would increase perceptions of legitimacy, which would increase identification with emergency responders, and consequently increase public compliance. We also hypothesised, based on the social identity model of collective resilience (SIMCR: Drury, Cocking, & Reicher, 2009), that increased identification with other members of the public would increase collective agency, thus increasing normative co-operative behaviour. Further, we suggested, based on research into social identity and stress (e.g. Haslam et al., 2005; 2006; 2009) that identification with other members of the public, and collective agency, would result in reduced anxiety during mass decontamination.


Testing these hypotheses presented a challenge, as these types of incidents have thankfully been rare in the UK. To overcome this, we used a variety of methods, including: large scale mass decontamination field exercises, which involved over 100 people being decontaminated, often in city centres and other public areas, in full view of onlookers; a visualisation experiment; and a mass decontamination field experiment. The field exercises and the visualisation experiment provided support for several of our hypotheses, showing that effective responder communication predicted increased public compliance and cooperative behaviour, mediated by relevant social identity variables. This quote from a field exercise volunteer sums up how a lack of communication impacted on reduced compliance and reduced co-operation: “Communication was severely lacking/ inadequate throughout the event. People would’ve felt calmer/ cooperated more readily if comms had been better.” However, both the field exercises and the visualisation experiment study designs had limitations: while the field exercises had high ecological validity, they employed a purely correlational design; in contrast, the visualisation experiment allowed different communication strategies to be tested, but lacked ecological validity. The mass decontamination field experiment aimed to overcome these limitations, by employing an experimental design but maintaining high ecological validity. During the experiment, participants actually went through the decontamination process, as they would during a real incident (except that they wore swimwear, rather than being naked). This also enabled behavioural measures such the length of time taken for participants to complete the process, and observations of non-compliance, co-operative behaviour, and confusion, to be carried out alongside self-report measures.


During the experiment, participants received one of three responder communication strategies: “good” (health-focused information about decontamination, updates about actions responders were taking, sufficient practical information); “standard practice” (no health-focused information, no updates about actions responders were taking, sufficient practical information); and “poor” (no health-focused information, no updates about actions responders were taking, very basic practical information). Results showed that the “good” communication strategy was perceived as being significantly more effective than either of the other two strategies. The decontamination process progressed most efficiently in the good communication condition, and non-compliance and confusion were observed least often in this condition. Further, results from self-report measures supported our hypotheses, highlighting the importance of effective responder communication, and the mediating role of social identity variables, for increasing public compliance and co-operative behaviour during mass decontamination.


Overall, our programme of research provides long-overdue evidence that a consideration of psychosocial factors is essential to facilitate the successful management of incidents involving mass decontamination; failure to consider such factors could delay the decontamination process, which could cost lives. We suggest four specific recommendations for managing incidents involving decontamination: 1) emergency responders should communicate openly with members of the public about actions they are taking; 2) emergency responders should communicate in a health-focused way about decontamination; 3) emergency responders should provide members of the public with sufficient practical information; and 4) emergency responders should respect public concerns about privacy.

Our findings underline the importance of training for emergency responders on ‘soft skills’ (such as communication, and the need to respect public needs for privacy); this has been neglected until now in favour of technical solutions, and hence technical preparation and training.



Holly Carter is a PhD student at the University of Sussex. Her PhD project aims to understand more about the way members of the public will behave during incidents involving mass casualty decontamination, examining how existing social psychological theories of crowd behaviour may be applicable to incidents involving mass casualty decontamination. Her PhD is funded by Public Health England and was the result of a collaboration between Dr John Drury (University of Sussex) and Dr Richard Amlot (Public Health England). Prior to her PhD Holly worked as a research assistant for Public Health England and was involved in research with members of the public to inform preparedness for various different types of disasters and emergencies.

 Orginally posted on 08/07/13

Wed, 25/11/2015 - 21:33

by Dr Abigail Locke, Chair of the Social Psychology Section, British Psychological Society


I was asked to write a piece on the future of social psychology. What is the future of social psychology? This, on the surface, seems like an easy topic to write about, but is it? Maybe, to answer this properly, it is best to first think about social psychology's past.


Social psychology is one of the oldest sub-disciplines of Psychology.  From the (arguably) first published social psychological study by Norman Triplett in 1898, it has been part of the very fabric of the wider discipline. As a section of the British Psychological Society, it is also one of the oldest, founded in 1953 by the eminent social psychologist, Professor Michael Argyle. It has a proud history within the Society, and the UK can be proud of the depth and breadth of the excellent work in social psychology that it regularly produces.


As a discipline, social psychology can sometimes be perceived as having an identity crisis due to the strong tensions in approaches – theoretical or applied, quantitative or qualitative, social cognition or social constructionism? However, this is missing the point. Social Psychology in the UK, and elsewhere is strong, as strong as it has ever been. This can be demonstrated by the emergence of many other sub-disciplines that have grown around it, and, at their core, use mainly social psychological principles, theories and methods. When I took over the role of Chair, I spoke to many scholars who told me how they ‘used to be’ social psychologists before specialising in their applied areas. I would encourage all of these people to reconsider their roots and engage with the discipline of social psychology again and share the knowledge and theoretical evolution that they have made in their new groups adapting social psychological ideas.


The challenge as a section is to recognise this diversity as our strength and come together. We have an immense breadth of social psychology within the UK and beyond that perhaps we aren’t acknowledging. For some, the idea of working across sub-section boundaries is troubling – do we need to protect our identity? However, there are obvious section crossovers to explore. It’s exciting to see how social psychology underpins a lot of the research work going on in the discipline as a whole. I see it as a positive thing to collaborate with others and share ideas and perspectives and would encourage others to do the same.


Social psychology is, as it has always been, in a tricky position in the science world between sociology and psychology. For the social sciences, psychology is regarded as a life/hard science. For the ‘hard’ sciences, it’s a social not a life science. This makes it particularly difficult at times for social psychology to position itself, demonstrated by the poor record of some social psychologists, often qualitative, in obtaining substantial research funding and, more pertinent concerns are for the upcoming Research Excellent Framework where there is a fear that the importance of such work won’t be considered.  We won’t know for a while whether these are real or imagined dangers but for some, social psychology fragmented after the last RAE, or seemed to at least, due to the perceived ‘poor relation’ status that it’s sometimes given.


From being a social psychologist, I would suggest that, as a discipline, we’re actually in excellent health. We have a diverse range of methodologies, passionate scholars and engaging topics. What we need to get better at doing is sharing that with the wider psychology community and beyond.  We know that the work that we are doing is often highly relevant to contemporary life, with the potential for huge amounts of impact. We need to ensure that we communicate that message effectively. To do that well though we must engage with our wider communities.  The old battle-lines that have threatened to fragment the discipline on many occasions will always remain for a few. Our task as a section must be to showcase the excellent work conducted by all social psychologists, regardless of theoretical or methodological stance. As I’ve always held, psychology is, by definition, inherently social. We are constantly engaging with the wider (social) world, therefore social psychology has a key, central part of the discipline of psychology as it continues to develop.


I’m proud to be Chair of the section and to work with a committee that covers the depth and breadth of UK social psychology. We are keen to demonstrate the relevance of contemporary social psychology and to foster an inclusive environment for all that wish to join us.


Orginally posted 01/07/13

Wed, 25/11/2015 - 21:27



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