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The social construction of identity

The social construction of identity

June 24, 2021
After an interminable night, it is finally done during the day. Marc opens his eyes and with a leap, he stands on the bed. Start running excited to the room, with wide eyes, thinking that this year Santa Claus was going to bring many gifts and treats, because he had done all and all homework. However, when he arrived, he was surprised to see coal next to a letter: "next year he helps dad and mom".

Mine or yours?

One of the worst moments of childhood is the disappointment experienced by Marc . However, that feeling does not arise from having received coal. The discomfort is due to the fact that Marc, who believed that he had behaved well, is letting him know that, in the eyes of others, he has behaved badly. So, Marc is a good or a bad boy? Are your own eyes or those of others right?


The duality of identity

This duality reflects that there is a part of us that we are not aware of and only from outside, we are communicated. While the conception of ourselves may differ from that of others, se presents us with a duality in the perspective of identity . In this sense, there is a perception of one's identity, but there are aspects of it that we can only access through others. Mead (1968) was one of the first theorists to differentiate a more personal identity, a more social identity ("me" and "me"), as two parts that coexist within the person and feed into each other. Although I was trying to identify two elements, I was really pointing out a process; a continuous relationship of the person with the environment that forms and the person who shapes the environment.


We could say in a few words that, just as we are aware that we have two eyes or a nose because we can touch them, we can see ourselves clearly before the mirror. Following this line, society is that reflection, thanks to which we can discern our way of being .

Mandatory reading: "Personal and social identity"

What is mine?

If you think that you are only you, I will start with trying to disprove you and, for now, tell you that you are less you than you think. Identity is usually defined as a unitary set of traits that remain stable and that allow a self-identification; an iron core to grab onto.

Why we are the way we are and the self-identification

Imagine Marc growing up and how he becomes Gothic feeling misunderstood; and then skater without getting involved in anything; and then a romantic that seeks commitment; and then a bachelor of crazy life; and then a businessman; and then ... Where is that stability? But nevertheless, the person is able to perceive and understand each of the contexts . That is, each of us can understand each other in each of our stages. In Bruner's terms (1991), identity is situated -in a space-time- and distributed -it is broken down into several facets-. Not only is one capable of understanding each of his facets in his life, but he is also understood by others; Marc's parents have understood him in every episode of his growth.


Self-concept and its relation to identity

This fact opens the doors to theory of mental models (Johnson-Laird, 1983). Although right now we have doubted what we are, it is true that we have an idea of ​​ourselves in our head, a self-concept. Besides, andThis self-concept serves as a mental model for our behavioral repertoire : we can imagine how we would act in different situations or before different people. Thanks to this, we can maintain an internal coherence of what we think about ourselves and not fall into a cognitive dissonance. This is how, in each interaction, we evoke to the outside part of what we are, because in this process we only evoke the features of our self-concept related to our environment, with our here and now - in a safe disco we would not show the same part of us that before an examination-.

Continuing with another metaphor, let us think for a moment about the case of an old painter, in a chair, with a canvas before him, behind a lush meadow. For many hours that you spend sitting trying to recreate the landscape that surrounds you, will never be able to accurately represent every detail that reality shows you . There will always be a small sheet or some shade of color that will only exist in reality. It is because of this fact that, when painting, he is recreating reality, not creating it.

What is yours?

This is how, although we can believe a lot, what we are for the other, may be less. Right at this point I intend to change it, tell you that you can be different from what you imagine .

Let's go back to our previous metaphors.For example to the experience of Marc, in which thinking if it is "good" or "bad" is given in case it is valued more to do homework or help parents. Or more simply, in the case of the painter, who after finishing the painting will each have their own impression of him.

The emission and interpretation of intentions

In this line, we explain how in the interaction, our interlocutor develops a process of inferences . This process is based on interpreting the semantics and pragmatics of the message, what and how it is said. From this, it does not interpret the message, but the intentionality of the sender, with what intention we are addressing him. Several studies show that features of communication such as accent, formalism or others, create different prejudices of people about their status, competence, anxiety, etc. (Ryan, Cananza and Moffie, 1977, Bradac and Wisegarver, 1984, Bradar, Bowers and Courtright, 1979; Howeler, 1972).

Based on these indications, the receiver interprets our intention and thereby creates his own mental model of us . Because in the same way that one imagines how one would act in different situations, one also elaborates a prefixed image of the other that allows us to predict what one can do or say, think or feel; what can we expect from that person? It is one of the basic heuristics to process the information with greater agility: if I can foresee, I can give an answer first.

That is the same end in the role of the receiver: give an answer . In each relationship that we maintain, the other person elaborates feedback, your feedback, from your interpretation of our acts. And if we have already said that our acts are somewhat different from what we would think and that the interpretation may be different from our intention, the feedback we receive may be totally different than expected. It can teach us parts of ourselves that we do not know or that we were not aware of; make us look different.

What do I decide to be?

In this way, as a third step of the process, I tell you that you are more than you believed, whether you want it or not, good or bad. We continually receive feedback from abroad, in every interaction we have with the others, with the environment and with ourselves. And that message we receive is not ignored, because we also exercise the same process that they did with us: now we are the receiver. We interpret the intention behind it and that is when we can find that they can treat us differently than we thought .

The importance of feedback in shaping identity

In the process of interpretation, the mental model received from the outside is in conflict with our own, that is, how they see us and how we see ourselves. Possibly, in the feedback received, new, unknown information has been included, which does not correspond to the idea we have of us. This information will be included and integrated into our mental model from two features: the affective charge and the recurrence (Bruner, 1991).

Returning to the painter, he can receive different opinions about his painting, but he will be shocked if all of them are only critical -recurrence of the same feedback- or if one of them comes from his wife who loves so much - emotional charge-.

We arrived then, to the danger zone. These two features modulate the influence of "how they see us" for us . If, in addition, it is very contrary to our initial mental model, we enter into cognitive dissonances, into internal inconsistencies due to the contradiction that they imply. Much psychological distress is given because we feel that "we do not receive what we give", or that "we are not how we want to be" and the strength of these beliefs can cause much suffering and psychological disorders such as depression if they become persistent and insidious.

But it is in this same area of ​​risk, where the person can grow, where that feedback can add and not subtract. For the development and personal growth, after defining this process, the keys are in the following points:

  • Self-awareness : if one is aware of the self-concept of oneself and the context that surrounds it, we can optimize the adaptation of what we evoke. Being aware of how we are and what surrounds us, we are able to make the decision on how to best respond to the needs of our environment.
  • Self-determination : we can be aware that the feedback we receive is information about how others receive us. In this way we can think about how to develop ourselves better and focus and obtain our goals.
  • Self-critical sense : in the same way that feedback information can help us achieve goals, it can also serve us for personal growth. Knowing what to collect from the feedback we receive to improve, or what areas are showing us that we still need to strengthen. In this case it is important to know how to recognize what our environment satisfies us.
  • Self-regulation : the ability to be more or less flexible in each of the parts of the "being".Both know how to expose ourselves in an authentic way and put defenses when you touch, both know how to get the most out of what they tell us and discard it if it is very contaminated. The fact of optimizing resources and our own management

Finally, you can be less, you can be different, you can be more. But - and excuse me for the expression - I leave you in the most "fucked up" situation of all, and that is that you can be what you want to be.

Bibliographic references:

  • Bradac, J. J. and Wisegarver, R. (1984). Ascribed status, lexical diversity, and accent: Determinants of perceived status, soladirity and control speech style. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 3, 239-256.
  • Bradac, J. J., Bowers, J. W. and Courtright, J. A. (1979). Three language variables in communication research: Intensity, immediacy, and diversity. Human Communication Research, 5, 257-269.
  • Bruner, J. (1991). Acts of meaning. Beyond the cognitive revolution. Madrid: Editorial Alliance.
  • Johnson-Laird, Philip N (1983). Mental Models: Toward a Cognitive Science of Language, Inference and Consciousness. Harvard University Press.
  • Howeler, M. (1972). Diversity of Word usage as a stress indicator in an interview situation. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 1, 243-248.
  • Mead, G. H .: Spirit, person and society, Paidós, Buenos Aires, 1968 a.C
  • Ryan, E. B., Cananza, M. A. and Moffie, R. W. (1977). Reactions towards varying degrees of accentedness in the speech of Spanish-English. Language and Speech, 20, 267-273.

Identity Theory vs. Social Identity Theory (June 2021).


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