Can those immersed in the group look beyond it? : links between identity fusion and group-related communication and guilt
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Research on identity fusion (Swann, Gomez, Seyle, & Morales, 2009), a recent phenomenological approach to social identification, suggests that some people have a deep personal bond with a group that they belong to. Evidence shows that fused people have a persistent connection between their group identity and personal selves. The notion of a social identity that is deeply entwined with the personal self stands in contrast to traditional views of social identification (e.g. Self-Categorization Theory; Turner, Oakes, Haslam, & McGarty, 1994), which tend to see group membership as something that is only important in particular group-related situations. Whereas most people are able to compartmentalize their identities based on the context they are in, a fused group identity can be active even in situations that are unrelated to it. The ability to compartmentalize may be beneficial in some cases, however. Downplaying an identity that is not active can allow people to insulate themselves from negative information about the group and can improve the quality of social interactions. Without the ability to compartmentalize, people who are fused with a group may have trouble with both of these things. Three studies tested whether fused people do indeed experience such repercussions. The first study presented University of Texas students with a fake news story describing the school hurting local family farmers. Participants who were highly identified with UT were more likely to feel guilty after reading the story, while participants who were highly fused with UT were more likely to engage in a subsequent charitable task (whether they read the news story or were in a control condition). In the second study, UT students were asked to chat with each other about a variety of topics, and have the quality of their interactions linguistically analyzed. The final study had UT students write about either their relationship with UT or with their immediate family. Participants who were more highly fused with UT were less likely to use words signifying negative emotion or uncertainty, but were more likely to use inclusive pronouns. Implications for future research on identity fusion are discussed.