Theories And Theorists Essays Examples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Theory, Sociology, Identity, Development, Psychology, Community, Teamwork, Team

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/10/04

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Two key theories in social psychology that have been extensively studied, developed, and utilized are social identity theory and psychosocial development theory. Each of these theories has its own set of fundamental attributes and conditions; however, they do share some similarities and have a relationship that is longstanding. Social identity theory is loosely defined as how an individual defines him or herself in relation to the groups that he or she belongs to or identifies with. These groups can be family-oriented, or based on religion, community, race, ethnicity, hobbies, like interests, and many other defining units. These defining units can be individual or crossed-linked as well. Psychosocial development theory, on the other hand, has eight specifically defined stages that an individual should or does pass through throughout his or her lifetime, each stage being related to social, cultural, and biological instincts, forces, and circumstances.
When looking at each of these fields of social psychology individually, the most recognizable name in the field of social identity theory is Henri Tajfel. Tajfel, with a difficult history of being a Polish Jew and surviving World War II in German prisoner of war camps, eventually developed a set of assumptions about the social impact of group or social judgments and how an individual’s cognition is deeply ingrained into his or her identity. For example, using Tajfel’s concept of an individual deriving a social identity or identities, or at least a part of an identity, via a social group, Rodrigues, Miguez, & Lurenço (2013) looked at surgical teams consisting of surgeons, anesthetists, and nurses. They wanted to find out if “doctors and nurses, when together in the surgical team, recognize themselves as members of that team, thus leaving the identities associated with their own individual professions” (p. 91). Because all individuals associate with many groups, the researchers wanted to see how the individuals within a very specific group setting would identify. The research indicated that “the individual professional categories of the surgical team act[ed] as a barrier to a shared team identity” (Rodrigues, Miguez, & Lurenço, 2013, p. 92). They concluded that the doctors, the nurses, and the other members of the surgical team saw themselves as representatives of their professional group (doctor, nurse, etc.) rather than as part of a professional surgical team. (Rodrigues, Miguez, & Lurenço, 2013, p. 92). These findings solidify Tajfel’s definition of group identification via the representation the individuals on the surgical team felt for their professional groups while demonstrating that there can be distinct group affiliations that are nuanced, or leveled via the members of the surgical teams’ inability to identify with the surgical group as a whole, or as a cohesive assemblage of professionals.
There are additional aspects of Tajfel’s theory that suppose identities and stereotypes as well. Michael Billig (2002) reported that “social identity theory is not a theory of prejudice. It certainly is not a theory of murderous bigotry. It is, at root, a theory of group freedom. It tells the way that oppressed groups can find ways to challenge groups that have the power to ascribe identities and stereotypes (p. 179). Shifting the power differential as part of identity forming in a group dynamic has historically had important ramifications, many of which have been researched through the social psychology lens.
Just as Tajfel is a leader in social identity theory, Erik Erikson is recognized in psychosocial development theory as one of the principals of the field. In general terms, Erikson’s concept of psychosocial identity indicates that “identity formation is based on overcoming conflicts that individuals encounter during adolescence and early adulthood” (Karkouti, 2014, p. 257), and that there are a total of eight stages of conflicts that are encountered by an individual that help him or her learn how to contend with conflict and move forward to a new stage of conflictional development. Donald Capps (2013) noted that “Erikson did not assign specific ages to every stage, but the fact that the model is heavily weighted toward childhood is evident in the fact that four of the eight stages precede adolescence” (p. 363). Erikson’s eight-stage theory is not without its detractors, however. Because some researchers and practitioners feel his eight stages are unidirectional and still others feel that his theory isn’t nearly robust enough to fully explain social development and identity (Karkouti, 2014), Erikson’s theory has faced some amount of criticism.
While it has faced some amount of criticism, Erikson’s theory regarding the development of psychosocial identity has generally stood as a reliable application in psychological practice. James Marcia and Ruthellen Josselson (2013) described how Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, when applied to therapeutic intervention, could be utilized in a number of effective ways. Through their research, they found that Erikson’s theory “provides a developmental overview, a descriptive language for where the individual stands currently within a psychosocial developmental context, where he/she might have gotten ‘stuck’ in the past, and where she/he is heading” (Marcia & Josselson, 2013, p. 628). This gives psychologists, counselors and therapists a point at which therapeutic interventions, or practical application of the theory, can then easily begin.
The relationship between social identity theory and psychosocial development theory is two-fold. First, both theories explain that there is, in fact, a social, or group, aspect to identity. Without this assumption, the theories would be baseless. Additionally, both theories postulate and then explain how an individual develops his or her identity, or at least an identity specifically related to group or social association. However, there seems to be more differences between the theories than similarities, some highly examined and others that have more subtly been brought to the attention of social psychology researchers.
The differences between the two social psychology theories are numerous. Most obvious is the difference in structure of the theories. Social identity theory takes into account all groups that an individual may be associated with and how that individual relates to those groups and identifies him or herself both within and related to that group. Psychosocial development theory, on the other hand, is structured around a prescriptive set of stages, eight in total, where an individual reacts to conflict, eventually growing out of one stage and moving to the next, more complex stage of conflict. There is also a difference between the two theories in their applicability to therapy. While direct applications of both can be useful, psychological developmental theory has a more structured approach that can more easily identify where an individual is struggling regarding social development.
These two theories, individually and jointly, are important to the field of social psychology for several reasons. First, they lay a groundwork for further investigation. Also, they both have underlying assumptions that associate the individual with society on some level. Additionally, they can work together to identify ways in which individuals express individuality via group association or disassociation.
While the two key theories of social psychology of social identity theory and psychosocial development theory have been widely examined and applied to numerous tests, trials, and social situations. Both theories have essential features that ascribe meaning to an individual’s social identity. These two important theories do reveal some parallels and share a history of examination, development, and application. As related to deciding whether an individual attaches to social groups for identity or passes through prescriptive stages to gain social development, both theories, either individually or jointly, could explain some of the social identity markers in human nature.

References

Billig, M. (2002). Henri Tajfel's 'Cognitive aspects of prejudice' and the psychology of bigotry. British Journal of Social Psychology, 41(2), 171.
Capps, D. (2013). Margaret R. Miles' Augustine and the fundamentalist's daughter: An Eriksonian perspective. Pastoral Psychology, 62(3), 361-373. doi:10.1007/s11089-012-0444-1
Karkouti, I. M. (2014). Examining psychosocial identity development theories: A guideline for professional practice. Education, 135(2), 257.
Marcia, J., & Josselson, R. (2013). Eriksonian personality research and its implications for psychotherapy. Journal of Personality, 81(6), 617-629. doi:10.1111/jopy.12014
Rodrigues, A., Miguez, J., & Lourenço, P. (2013). The 'we' and the 'others' in an interprofessional surgical context: Findings from a Portuguese study. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 27(1), 91-92. doi:10.3109/13561820.2012.744959

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