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Identity Fusion Edit

Identity fusion is a unique form of alignment with groups in which members experience a visceral sense of oneness with the group. The construct relies on a distinction between the personal self and the social self. The personal self refers to the characteristics that make someone a unique individual (e.g., tall, old, intelligent), while the social self pertains to the characteristics that align the individual with groups (e.g., American, fraternity brother, student council member, etc.). As the name suggests, identity fusion involves the union of the personal and social selves.

When fusion occurs, both the personal and social selves remain salient and influential but the boundaries between them become highly permeable. In addition, fused persons come to regard other group members as “family” and develop strong relational ties to them as well as ties to the collective. Therefore, fused persons are not just bound to the collective; they are tied to the individual members of the collective.

The potency of the personal self and relational ties distinguish identity fusion from other forms of alignment with groups, such as “group identification”. In group identification, allegiance to the collective eclipses the personal self and relational ties to other group members. Given the lack of involvement of the personal self and relational ties  in identification, it follows that measures of identity fusion should be more predictive of extreme pro-group behavior than measures of identification. In fact, there is growing evidence of this.  Measures of identity fusion are particularly powerful predictors of personally costly pro-group behaviors, including endorsement of extreme behaviors like fighting and dying for the group.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Theoretical Foundations Edit

The identity fusion construct builds upon earlier work by emphasizing aspects of the relationship of people to groups that were deemphasized within the social identity perspective (i.e., social identity theory[7] and self-categorication theory[8]). Like social identity theory, identity fusion theory rests on the distinction between the personal and social identities[9]. However, the social identity approach assumes that there is a hydraulic relationship between personal and social identities, such that increases in the salience and influence of one diminishes the salience and influence of the other. One important implication of this assumption is that as the group identity becomes salient and apt to guide behavior, the personal identity becomes less salient and likely to guide behavior.  In contrast, within identity fusion theory[10], both the personal and social identities can be salient and influential simultaneously.

Social identity theory also suggests that group members are only linked to one another through their allegiance to the collective; theoretically, personal relationships between group members do not foster identification with the group (e.g.[11]; but see[12]). In contrast, fused individuals feel deeply connected to other group members as individuals, as well as to the larger group as a whole.  This is reflected in measures of identify fusion. For example, the verbal measure of identity fusion[13] taps feelings of reciprocal strength between the individual and the group (e.g., “I am strong because of my group”; “I’ll do more for my group than any other group members would do”) as well as feelings of oneness with the group (e.g., “I am one with my group”; “My group is me”).

The Four Principles Edit

The unique characteristics of identity fusion theory have been summarized in the form of four principles:

  1. Agentic-personal self principle- When identity fused individuals become strongly aligned with a group, they are assumed to maintain an active and agentic personal self, even when the social self is activated. Consistent with this idea, activating the personal self by increasing physiological arousal[14] or encouraging people to think about how they would react if they were personally threatened[15] increased endorsement of extreme progroup sacrifices. In contrast, the social identification perspective assumes that the personal and social selves are hydraulically related to one another. As such, activating the personal self should diminish endorsement of pro-group behavior. However, this was not the case for strongly fused individuals, who actually demonstrated the exact opposite effect.
  2. Identity synergy principle- The fact that the personal and social selves can be activated independently raises the possibility that they may combine synergistically to motivate pro-group behavior. Consistent with this possibility, studies have shown that the activation of either the personal self or social self amplifies the willingness of strongly fused persons to behave in a pro-group fashion.  For example, activating the personal self by ostracizing participants from the group based on their personal preferences or activating the social self by ostracizing participants based on their group membership[16] resulted in amplification of endorsement of pro-group action for strongly, but not weakly, fused individuals. Thus, unlike social identity theory which assumes that the personal self does not play a role in pro-group behavior, fusion theory holds that pro-group behaviors are motivated by both the personal and social selves and these two types of self-knowledge may sometimes work together.
  3. Relational ties principle- The fusion approach assumes that strongly fused persons care not only about their collective ties to the group (as an abstract entity), but also their relationships (real or imagined) with other members of the group.[17][18][19] Indeed, strongly fused individuals feel kin-like bonds with other group members, even ones with whom they may have had little or no contact. Several studies have garnered empirical support for the relational ties principle. Using several interpersonal variations of the classic trolley dilemma, individuals who were strongly fused with their country endorsed saving fellow countrymen by jumping to their deaths in front of a speeding trolley.[20] Moreover, fused participants even endorsed pushing aside a fellow countryman who was poised to jump to his death to ultimately benefit the group, and instead jumping themselves.[21] Apparently, highly fused persons are so strongly aligned with their fellow group members that they would prefer that they themselves would die rather than a fellow group member. On the other hand, the social identity approach assumes that, when the social identity is salient, individuals view their fellow group members mere interchangeable exemplars of the group (i.e. they evaluate other group members based on their “collective ties” toward the group).
  4. Irrevocability principle- The fusion approach assumes that, once developed, fusion will remain largely stable over time. This stability persists even in varying situations. That is, although the overall fusion of a group of persons may shift in response to powerful situational forces, the rank orderings of individuals within the group will remain stable. Researchers have tested the “once fused, always fused” hypothesis by comparing the temporal stability of fusion-with-country scores for highly fused individuals with those for moderately or weakly fused individuals. The stability coefficients for highly fused participants were significantly higher than the coefficients associated with weakly or moderately fused participants.[22]

Consequences of Fusion Edit

Endorsement of Extreme Pro-Group Behaviors Edit

Since the experimental study of actual extreme pro-group acts raises large ethical red flags, researchers have largely focused on endorsements of extreme pro-group acts. Several studies have shown that fusion is a robust predictor of willingness to fight and die on behalf of one’s group.[23][24][25][26] Other research has examined responses to variations of the classic “trolley dilemma”[27] adapted for groups.  In scenarios that pitted the desire for self-preservation against self-sacrifice for others, strongly fused persons were especially willing to endorse sacrificing their lives for fellow ingroup members (but not for outgroup members).[28] Using a different approach, researchers examined group members’ reactions to significant group losses and found that highly identified individuals tend to detach themselves from the group following a group failure, whereas strongly fused persons predicted that they would “go down with the ship”. For example, in parallel studies of the 2008 presidential elections in Spain and the United States, people who were strongly fused with their political party internalized both victory and defeat, but highly identified persons internalized only victory.[29]

Engagement in Personally Costly, Pro-Group Behaviors Edit

In addition to predicting endorsement of extreme pro-group behaviors, fusion has been shown to be predictive of a variety of personally costly pro-group behaviors in the real world. In a study of transsexuals considering sex reassignment surgery, individuals strongly fused with their desired sex underwent surgical procedures designed to permanently change their primary sex characteristics.  Weakly fused participants were far less likely to undergo these procedures.[30]

Research has shown that fusion is also a strong predictor of group-directed helping behaviors. In some studies, they donated money to the group.[31] In others, they provided social and emotional support to fellow group members.[32] Other research has also suggested that strongly fused individuals are especially willing to go out of their way to protect the group and maintain its integrity. For instance, strongly fused employees were more likely to report having “blown the whistle” sometime during their employment. Presumably, such whistle-blowing activity was motivated by a conviction that their actions would ultimately benefit the group.[33] Another study found that students who were strongly fused with their university were remarkably willing to “blow the whistle” against a fellow student who was cheating despite the cost of time, energy, and the possibility of retaliation from the cheater.[34]

Local vs. Extended fusion Edit

Since Darwin, behavioral scientists have been baffled by the willingness of some humans to sacrifice themselves for the group.  Why, for example, do members of large, diffuse groups (e.g., nation, religion) make the ultimate sacrifice for genetically unrelated others? Social psychological perspectives have contended that such sacrifices are motivated by commitment to the larger collective (e.g.[35]), whereas anthropological perspectives have contended that such sacrifices are triggered by commitment to other members of the group (e.g.[36][37]).

Which of the foregoing explanations of self-sacrifice is correct?  The distinction between local and extended fusion may be helpful here.[38] Local fusion occurs in relatively small, homogeneous groups in which members develop strong attachments to individuals with they have direct personal contact (e.g., families or work teams). In contrast, extended fusion occurs in relatively large groups consisting of many individuals with whom the fused individual may have no personal relationships (e.g., political parties, nation states). In extended fusion, even though fused individuals may not actually know all of their fellow group members, they still feel like they know them and even think of them as being like-family. In short, fused people project feelings of relational ties they have with known group members onto unknown group members. The projection of relational ties explains why fused individuals are sometimes willing to make sacrifices for members of large heterogeneous groups that most people would make only for small, tight-knit groups. Through the process of projection, they psychologically transform genetically unrelated individuals into kin.

Mechanisms underlying fusion effects Edit

Shared essence Edit

Although most fusion research to date has focused on the nature and consequences of fusion, recent research has revealed some promising starting points for understanding the causes of fusion. Perceptions of shared essence, the belief that one shares essential core qualities with the group, appears to be a key building block of identity fusion. Perceptions of shared essence arise in different ways in local and extended fusion. In local fusion, individuals have direct experiences with other group members that foster the conclusion that one shares essential qualities with those individuals. In extended fusion, the perception of psychological kinship is fostered by the presence of certain characteristics that are perceived as fundamental to who the person is. For example, people are more likely to fuse with large extended groups when they become convinced that members of the group share with them genes or core values, especially if they hold those values sacred.[39]

Invulnerability Edit

The relational ties principle of fusion suggests that highly fused individuals will feel that they and other group members synergistically strengthen each other. This perception of reciprocal strength should foster the perception that together, members of the group are uniquely invulnerable. These feelings of invulnerability may serve to insulate strongly fused individuals from fully recognizing the risks associated with extreme acts. Perceptions of invulnerability have been shown to mediate the effects of fusion on endorsement of pro-group behavior.[40]

Agency Edit

The identity synergy principle of fusion assumes that the borders between the personal and social selves are highly permeable for strongly fused individuals. These porous borders encourage people to channel their personal agency into group behavior, raising the possibility that strongly fused individuals will channel their feelings of personal agency into pro-group behavior. Perceptions of agency have been shown to mediate the effect of fusion on pro-group behavior.[41][42]

See alsoEdit


References Edit

  1. Swann, W. B. Jr., Gómez, A., Seyle, C. D., Morales, J. F. & Huici, C. (2009). Identity fusion: The interplay of personal and social identities in extreme group behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 995–1011. doi: 10.1037/a0013668
  2. Swann, W. B. Jr., Gómez, A., Dovidio, J. F., Hart, S. & Jetten, J. (2010a). Dying and killing for one’s group: Identity fusion moderates responses to intergroup versions of the trolley problem. Psychological Science, 21, 1176-1183. doi: 10.1177/0956797610376656
  3. Gómez, A., Brooks, M. L., Buhrmester, M. D., Vázquez, A., Jetten, J., & Swann, W. B., Jr. (2011a). On the nature of identity fusion: Insights into the construct and a new measure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(5), 918. doi: 10.1037/a0022642
  4. Swann, W. B. Jr., Jetten, J., Gómez, A., Whitehouse, H., & Bastian, B. (2012). When group membership gets personal: A theory of identity fusion. Psychological Review, 119(3), 441-456. doi: 10.1037/a0028589
  5. Swann, W. B. Jr., Buhrmester, M.D., Gómez, A., Jetten, J., Bastian, B., Vázquez, A. … Zhang, A. (2013a). What makes a group worth dying for? Identity fusion fosters feelings of familial ties, promoting self-sacrifice.
  6. Swann, W.B., Jr., Gómez, A., López, L., Jiménez, J. & Buhrmester, M.D. (2013b). The roots of extreme self-sacrifice: Dying for one’s group reflects identity fusion, not morality.
  7. Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey, CA: Brooks-Cole.
  8. Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J., Reicher, S. D., & Wetherell, M. (1987). Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell.
  9. James, W. (1890), The Principles of Psychology, 2 vols, New York: Henry Holt
  10. Swann, W. B. Jr., Jetten, J., Gómez, A., Whitehouse, H., & Bastian, B. (2012). When group membership gets personal: A theory of identity fusion. Psychological Review, 119(3), 441-456. doi: 10.1037/a0028589
  11. Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J., Reicher, S. D., & Wetherell, M. (1987). Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell.
  12. Hogg, M. A., & Hardie, E. A. (1991). Social attraction, personal attraction, and self-categorization: A field study. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 175-180. doi: 10.1177/014616729101700209
  13. Gómez, A., Brooks, M. L., Buhrmester, M. D., Vázquez, A., Jetten, J., & Swann, W. B., Jr. (2011a). On the nature of identity fusion: Insights into the construct and a new measure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(5), 918. doi: 10.1037/a0022642
  14. Swann, W.B., Jr., Gómez, A., Huici, C., Morales, F., & Hixon, J. G. (2010b). Identity fusion and self-sacrifice: Arousal as catalyst of pro-group fighting, dying and helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(5), 824-841. doi: 10.1037/a0020014
  15. Swann, W. B. Jr., Gómez, A., Seyle, C. D., Morales, J. F. & Huici, C. (2009). Identity fusion: The interplay of personal and social identities in extreme group behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 995–1011. doi: 10.1037/a0013668
  16. Gómez, Á., Morales, J. F., Hart, S., Vázquez, A., & Swann, W. B., Jr. (2011b). Rejected and excluded forevermore, but even more devoted: Irrevocable ostracism intensifies loyalty to the group among identity-fused persons. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 1574-1586. doi: 10.1177/0146167211424580
  17. Swann, W. B. Jr., Gómez, A., Seyle, C. D., Morales, J. F. & Huici, C. (2009). Identity fusion: The interplay of personal and social identities in extreme group behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 995–1011. doi: 10.1037/a0013668
  18. Brewer, M.B., & Gardner, W. (1996). Who is this "we"? Levels of collective identity and self representations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 83-93. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.71.1.83
  19. Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.98.2.224
  20. Swann, W. B. Jr., Gómez, A., Dovidio, J. F., Hart, S. & Jetten, J. (2010a). Dying and killing for one’s group: Identity fusion moderates responses to intergroup versions of the trolley problem. Psychological Science, 21, 1176-1183. doi: 10.1177/0956797610376656
  21. Swann, W. B. Jr., Gómez, A., Dovidio, J. F., Hart, S. & Jetten, J. (2010a). Dying and killing for one’s group: Identity fusion moderates responses to intergroup versions of the trolley problem. Psychological Science, 21, 1176-1183. doi: 10.1177/0956797610376656
  22. Swann, W. B. Jr., Jetten, J., Gómez, A., Whitehouse, H., & Bastian, B. (2012). When group membership gets personal: A theory of identity fusion. Psychological Review, 119(3), 441-456. doi: 10.1037/a0028589
  23. Gómez, A., Brooks, M. L., Buhrmester, M. D., Vázquez, A., Jetten, J., & Swann, W. B., Jr. (2011a). On the nature of identity fusion: Insights into the construct and a new measure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(5), 918. doi: 10.1037/a0022642
  24. Swann, W.B., Jr., Gómez, A., Huici, C., Morales, F., & Hixon, J. G. (2010b). Identity fusion and self-sacrifice: Arousal as catalyst of pro-group fighting, dying and helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(5), 824-841. doi: 10.1037/a0020014
  25. Swann, W. B. Jr., Buhrmester, M.D., Gómez, A., Jetten, J., Bastian, B., Vázquez, A. … Zhang, A. (2013a). What makes a group worth dying for? Identity fusion fosters feelings of familial ties, promoting self-sacrifice.
  26. Swann, W.B., Jr., Gómez, A., López, L., Jiménez, J. & Buhrmester, M.D. (2013b). The roots of extreme self-sacrifice: Dying for one’s group reflects identity fusion, not morality.
  27. Foot, P. (1967). The problem of abortion and the doctrine of double effect. Oxford Review (Trinity), 5, 5–15.
  28. Swann, W. B. Jr., Gómez, A., Dovidio, J. F., Hart, S. & Jetten, J. (2010a). Dying and killing for one’s group: Identity fusion moderates responses to intergroup versions of the trolley problem. Psychological Science, 21, 1176-1183. doi: 10.1177/0956797610376656
  29. Buhrmester, M. D., Gómez, Á., Brooks, M. L., Morales, J. F., Fernández, S., & Swann, W. B. Jr. (2012). My group's fate is my fate: Identity-fused Americans and Spaniards link personal life quality to outcome of 2008 elections. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 34(6), 527-533. doi: 10.1080/01973533.2012.732825
  30. Swann, W.B., Jr., Gómez, A., Vazquez, A., Guillamon, A., Segovia, S. & Carrillo, B. (under revision). Fusion with psychological sex predicts genital sex change surgery
  31. Swann, W.B., Jr., Gómez, A., Huici, C., Morales, F., & Hixon, J. G. (2010b). Identity fusion and self-sacrifice: Arousal as catalyst of pro-group fighting, dying and helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(5), 824-841. doi: 10.1037/a0020014
  32. Semnani-Azad, Z., Sycara, K.P., & Lewis, M. (2012). Dynamics of helping behavior and cooperation across culture. Proceedings of Collaboration Technologies and Systems 2012, 525-530. doi: 10.1109/CTS.2012.6261100
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  34. Buhrmester, M.D. (2013). The cognitive and affective underpinnings of whistleblowing. Dissertation.
  35. Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey, CA: Brooks-Cole.
  36. Atran, S. (2010). Talking to the enemy: Violent extremism, sacred values, and what it means to be human. London: Penguin.
  37. Whitehouse, H. (2004). Modes of religiosity: A cognitive theory of religious transmission. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
  38. Swann, W. B. Jr., Jetten, J., Gómez, A., Whitehouse, H., & Bastian, B. (2012). When group membership gets personal: A theory of identity fusion. Psychological Review, 119(3), 441-456. doi: 10.1037/a0028589
  39. Atran, S., & Ginges, J. (2012). Religious and sacred imperatives in human conflict. Science, 336, 855- 857. doi: 10.1126/science.1216902
  40. Gómez, A., Brooks, M. L., Buhrmester, M. D., Vázquez, A., Jetten, J., & Swann, W. B., Jr. (2011a). On the nature of identity fusion: Insights into the construct and a new measure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(5), 918. doi: 10.1037/a0022642
  41. Swann, W.B., Jr., Gómez, A., Huici, C., Morales, F., & Hixon, J. G. (2010b). Identity fusion and self-sacrifice: Arousal as catalyst of pro-group fighting, dying and helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(5), 824-841. doi: 10.1037/a0020014
  42. Gómez, A., Brooks, M. L., Buhrmester, M. D., Vázquez, A., Jetten, J., & Swann, W. B., Jr. (2011a). On the nature of identity fusion: Insights into the construct and a new measure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(5), 918. doi: 10.1037/a0022642

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