Describe any one approach to identity. Discuss how this approach can help explain the identities of people with disabilities. Identity has been defined as, “a person’s essential, continuous self, the internal subjective concept of oneself as an individual” (Reber,1995, p. 355). Identity is a complex field and, as a consequence, psychologists have devised a number of theories to help people to understand it. This essay will describe an approach to identity called Social Identity Theory (SIT) which was developed by Henri Tajfel and his colleagues (Tajfel,1978).
It will then move on to a discussion of how this theory can help to explain the identities of people with disabilities. Tajfel’s interest in identity was driven by his desire to understand prejudice. SIT, the theory he was at the heart of developing, sets out to explain, “the social processes by which people come to identify with particular groups and separate themselves from others” (Phoenix, 2007, p. 62). Tajfel separated identity into two, with a personal and social component. Of these two, he concentrated on people’s adoption, or development of ‘social identities’.
He defined social identity as, “that part of an individual’s self concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership. ” (Tajfel, 1978, p. 63). Phoenix sees our social identities as mostly being composed of ‘self-descriptions’ that come from the characteristics that we believe are significant to the social groups to which we belong (Phoenix, 2007, p. 62). Tajfel’s work considered the part that ‘categorization processes’ played in the definition of identity (Robinson, 1996, p. 01). Tajfel argued that even under ‘minimal conditions’ people categorize themselves and each other into social groups. In his now famous ‘Minimal Group’ experiments, he created a number of groups where the differences between the groups was trivial. He went on to show that merely being a member of an artificially created group was enough to promote identity with that group (the ingroup) and prejudice against others (the outgroup) (Tajfel et al, 1971). Tajfel (1978) argued that prejudice was an inevitable side effect of our drive for positive social identities.
For him, people achieved positive social identities by developing a sense of belonging to groups that they believed were distinct and had high social status. Self-esteem, and as a consequence prejudice, were bolstered by exaggerating the differences between ‘positive’ ingroups and other ‘inferior’ outgroups. Within SIT, individuals and groups may use one of three strategies to improve their social status in relation to other groups (Phoenix, 2007). The first is through social mobility, which involves leaving behind their previous social group.
The second is through ‘social creativity’ which involves promoting a ‘positive redefinition’ of a social identity. The last, social competition, seeks social change in a far more assertive fashion by “demanding alternative social arrangements based on new ways of thinking about social groups” (Phoenix, 2007, p. 65). Before moving on to a discussion of how SIT can help to explain the identities of people with disabilities it is probably worth noting the rejection of the concept of a unitary ‘disabled identity’.
Keith suggests that the wide variation ‘between types of impairment and within groups of people who have the same impairment, means that there can be no one single identity shared by people with physical impairments’ (as cited in Phoenix, 2007, p. 83). The development of SIT as means to help explain intergroup discrimination leaves it relatively ill-equipped to tackle a number of the key questions about identity such as: the importance of continuity, ‘crisis’ and adolescence to identity and whether disabled people choose core identities or construct and use flexible identities.
On the first question, it is reported that people who suddenly become physically impaired often experience, “profound consciousness of their embodied identities” (Dandeker, 1994; Morris, 1993 as cited in Phoenix, 2007). SIT would suggest that this increased consciousness of identity is due to the change in belonging to a “group of lower social status (and hence to being treated as a member of a devalued category), rather than just the change in itself” (Phoenix, 2007, p. 85).
On the matter of whether disabled people choose core identities or construct and use flexible identities, SIT suggests that identities can change throughout one’s life. This is in contrast to Erikson’s (1968) psychosocial theory that argues that individuals seek to develop a core identity during adolescence and thereafter identity remains relatively unchanged. Phoenix maintains that most of those who have campaigned for shifts in social perceptions of people with physical impairments are adults some of whom became physically impaired in adulthood (Phoenix, 2007, p. 6). This suggests that identities can, and do change in later life. SIT probably gains it most useful application in helping to explaining the motivations of people with disabilities as they seek to maintain and reinforce a positive social identity. According to SIT, people with disabilities may perceive themselves as belonging to a socially disadvantaged group with a poor social status. The desire to achieve a more satisfactory social identity would be sufficient to motivate group members to adopt strategies to bring about change.
Whilst those with disabilities might not be able to ‘physically’ leave their social group, they may adopt strategies to distance themselves from their groups. Brathwaite and Thompson (2000, p. 105) suggest that some people with disabilities attempt to “pass” as a person without a disability thereby ‘psychologically’ achieving social mobility. Such strategies include the use of artificial limbs that only serve aesthetic purposes (Robinson, 1996, p. 231). Disabled groups have also sought to use social creativity to enhance the social status of their groups.
Robinson (ibid) suggests that those with disabilities who participate in ‘in-group’ only activities (such as disabled basketball) may be asserting their identities as “highly skilled sportspersons… not attempting to assimilate into dominant group spheres”. He also sees the development of The Americans with Disability Act as a direct result of social competition, where people with disabilities fought for their civil rights. In conclusion, Social Identity theory was developed to help to explain the psychological basis for intergroup discrimination.
On its own it does not enable a broad understanding of the identities of people with disabilities. It does though provide insight into their social identities and their moves to achieve a more positive social status for themselves and the groups to which they belong. To a fuller understanding one must apply a greater range of theories accepting that these will focus on different aspects of identity. Word Count: 1021 References: Braithwaite, D. and Thompson, T (2000). Handbook of Communication and People with Disabilities: Research and Application. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Erikson, E. (1968).
Identity, Youth and Crisis. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. Phoenix, A. (2007). Identities and Diversities. In D. Meill, A. Phoenix, & K. Thomas (Eds. ), Mapping Psychology (2nd ed. , pp. 43-95). Milton Keynes: The Open University. Reber, A. (1995). The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology. (2nd ed). London: Penguin. Robinson, P. (1996). Social groups and identities: developing the legacy of Henri Tajfel, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann. Tajfel,H. , Billig,M. , Bundy, R. P. and Flament ,C. (1971) ‘Social categorization and intergroup behaviour’. European Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 1, pp. 149–77. Tajfel, H. 1978). Differentiation Between Social Groups: Studies in the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. (ed. ) London: Academic Press. Part II Scenario 1 Q1 The use of the most negative images from the IAPS contravenes the BPS Code of Ethics and Conduct in that it risks damaging the participants’ ‘psychological well-being, personal values or dignity’. The BPS Ethical Principles for Conducting Research seeks to clarify what is meant by ‘undue risk’ by stating that individuals should not be “induced to take risks that are greater than those that they would normally encounter in their life outside the research”.
As the images were designed to shock it must be accepted that these images would not normally be encountered in the participants’ daily life. Q2. The failure to explain the true purpose of the experiment at enrolment breaches the Code of Ethics which requires that researchers should ensure that participants are given as much opportunity as possible to understand the nature, purpose and anticipated consequences of taking part in the research. Without this, getting informed consent, another requirement of the code, would be impossible as participants would not understand what they were agreeing to.
Q3. The use of deception in this experiment would almost certainly fail the BPS’ guidelines which state that, “Participants should never be deliberately misled without extremely strong scientific or medical justification” and that, “the withholding of information or the misleading of participants is unacceptable if the participants are typically likely to object or show unease once debriefed. ” It is doubtful that the ‘ends would justify the means’ in this experiment and the participants would almost certainly show unease once debriefed.
Q4. The changes that I would recommend are that: 1. The researcher should explain the aim of and detail of the experiment including: what is being done, why it is being done, how it will be done, how the data will be handled, who will see the data, how the final research will be presented and who will have access to the research. 2. Having done this, he should obtain the consent of his students and keep a record of this. The students should be informed of their right to withdraw from the research.
This is especially important as the researcher is in a position of authority over the participants. 3. He should review the use of deception, as there should be no concealment or deception when seeking information that might encroach on privacy. 4. The researcher must assure participants that answers to personal questions need not be given. 5. He should also consult on the use of the most emotionally disturbing images with members of the population from which the participants are drawn. 6.
The researcher should debrief the participants helping them to complete their understanding of the nature of the research and to discuss the participants’ experiences to check for ‘any unforeseen negative effects or misconceptions’. Part II Scenario 2 Q1 I believe that the study most clearly breaches the following four guidelines: (v) Informed consent Seek to obtain the informed consent of all research participants…. The participants did not know that they were part of the experiment. Informed consent was not asked for and thus not given. xi) Participant control over participation Unless informed consent has been obtained, restrict research based upon observations of public behaviour.. ……. As informed consent had not been given, the researchers should have restricted their observations of public behaviour, “to those situations in which persons being studied would reasonably expect to be observed by strangers”. In this experiment, people would have expected privacy being in a toilet and would not have expected to be observed urinating, especially with someone invading their ‘personal space’. (i) Recruitment of research participants.
Consider all research from the standpoint of research participants……. By invading the participants’ personal space during urination, the experiment clearly risked contravening their dignity and personal values. The researchers expected certain behavioural responses, such as “moving away” and this action clearly would not be ‘normal’ or comfortable for people during urination. The fact that participants were chosen at random added additional risks as the researchers could not fully appreciate the harm that differences in age, culture, social background might introduce. xii) Debriefing of research participants Debrief research participants at the….. There is no mention in the text of any of the informants being debriefed after the experiment. The researchers had a duty to do this to “identify any unforeseen harm, discomfort, or misconceptions, and in order to arrange for assistance as needed. ” Debriefing was important in this instance as participants could clearly have felt uncomfortable at another individual being so close to them in a public toilet and this may have led them to call the police perhaps fearing that they had just been the victim of a sexual predator or voyeur.
Q2. The steps that could be taken to make the study ethically more acceptable are as follows: The researchers should approach individuals outside the lavatory, establish their credentials and explain their experiment in detail before gaining their consent to participate. This includes mentioning that they will be observed during the experiment. A record of this consent should also be maintained. Researchers should ensure that the participants are made aware of their right to withdraw from the experiment at any time and that the detail of their participation will remain confidential.
The researchers should debrief participants to asses their ‘levels of discomfort’ and any unforeseen harm caused by the experiment. The one essential feature of this experiment that I believe is incompatible with a modern code of ethics is the lack of respect for the participants that this experiment displays. The BPS guidelines state that those who take part in experiments should expect to be treated, “with the highest standards of consideration and respect”; this clearly wasn’t the case here. Q3.
This study again does not conform to current ethical guidelines in that individuals did not give their informed consent to take part. The BPS guidelines state that the withholding of information is unacceptable if, “participants are typically likely to object or show unease once debriefed”. Whilst the paper’s authors claim that none of the men were bothered that they had been observed, only half of the participants were interviewed. One or more of those that hadn’t been interviewed could have objected. As with the main study, this was also not a situation in which people would reasonably expect to be observed by strangers.
This study does not change my assessment of the ethical status of the main study for 2 reasons. Firstly, this study is not particularly representative of the original: it is less ‘intrusive’ in that no personal space is invaded. More importantly, it provides no satisfactory justification for the failure to gain consent. The fact that half of the participant appeared untroubled by being observed does not mean that any one of those not questioned may have been harmed. It similarly shows a lack of respect for the participants.