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Self-categorization theory and the development of national identity in English children

By Martyn Barrett, Hannah Wilson and Evanthia Lyons


<p>Self-categorization theory (Oakes, Haslam &amp; Turner, 1994) proposes that the salience of a social identity is context-dependent, with the salience of that identity being dependent upon the particular social comparisons which are available in any given context. Thus, in the case of national identity, when the context contains a comparable national outgroup, the salience of the national ingroup increases; when the context contains the national ingroup alone, the salience of that ingroup decreases. The theory also proposes that when a particular social identity becomes salient to an individual, self-stereotyping occurs and perceived ingroup homogeneity increases. Finally, the theory postulates that comparative context can affect group evaluations; depending upon the particular comparison outgroup which is available in the given context, the evaluation of the ingroup can change. Previous empirical studies have shown that these effects do indeed occur in individuals aged 18 years and over (see Oakes et al. 1994 for a review of these studies). The present study was designed to explore whether these various effects also occur in children. 307 English children aged from 5 to 11 years old were asked to attribute adjectives to their own national ingroup (English) in one of three different conditions: either alone; or in conjunction with a liked national outgroup (American); or in conjunction with a disliked national outgroup (German). In addition, the children were asked to rank the importance of their own national identity in relationship to their other social identities immediately after the attribution task, in order to assess the relative salience of their national identity in these three different comparative contexts. It was found that intergroup comparative context did not influence the salience of the children's own national identity, their attributions of ingroup homogeneity, or their evaluation of the ingroup. These findings imply that the processes postulated by selfcategorization theory do not operate in 5 to 11 year old children, as least as far as their national identity is concerned. However, it was also found that the younger children were more positive towards their own national ingroup, and more negative to both of the national outgroups, than the older children. The younger children also made more homogeneous evaluations of all the national groups than the older children. In addition, national identity became more salient with age. The implications of these findings for self-categorization theory are discussed.</p

Year: 1999
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