Research

The core aim of the research funded by this grant was to develop understanding of social identity and personal identity through the study of intragroup processes relating to the dynamics of change. The research was divided into 3 streams, each headed by one of the grantís Principal Investigators.

  • Stream 1 focused on communication and identity change.
  • Stream 2 aimed to develop an understanding of social and personal identity by studying intragroup processes in the context of organizational change.
  • Stream 3 focused on change and mental health.

The grant commenced in January 2007, and to date, there has been very significant progress on all three streams. In particular, a range of large empirical investigations have been carried out, and in every case this has contributed to papers that are at various stages in the publication process.


Communication and identity change

Stream 1 focused on the emergence of group identification. We became interested in the role of consensus in fostering collective identification. We conducted one longitudinal study (analyses in progress) among members of small ad- hoc working groups, and substantial pilot work and two further studies on the role of consensus in fostering (or undermining) British national identification. Preliminary findings from this latter project were presented in Perth, Australia, in April 2008, and have also been submitted to an international conference (ISPP) for presentation in July 2009. A manuscript based on these findings is in preparation.

We also developed research on collective-level strategies for combating stereotype threat. We published a short invited piece on this topic in Scientific American Mind in mid-2008, and have since been expanding that piece into a more rigorous review.

Experimental, archival, and meta-analytical work on the topic of stereotype threat are also in progress.


Organizational change

Stream 2 aimed to develop an understanding of social and personal identity by studying intragroup processes in the context of organizational change. This research was conducted in collaboration with the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal Marines, the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, Thai Airways, IBM and the CIPD.

In an increasingly globalised world, one major form of organizational change has been the increasing diversity of its work force. Increasingly, if organizations are to succeed in a competitive environment, they need to manage this diversity in ways that maximize the benefits that can flow from their employees’ varied perspective and experiences. This includes ensuring that talented women break through the glass ceiling to reach leadership positions in organizations. Two studies have examined the role of intragroup dynamics for women’s leadership appointment and ambition.

A major archival study by Haslam, Ryan, Kulich, Trojanowski and Atkins examined the relationship between the appointment of women to company boards and both accountancy-based and stock-based measures of company performance and found evidence that women’s appointments were negatively related to ‘soft’ stock-based measures of performance. These findings are consistent with claims that women are appointed to boards when companies are perceived to be performing poorly (the ‘glass cliff’; Ryan & Haslam, 2005, 2007) and that their appointment can lead to the devaluation of companies by investors.

Along related lines, we have also conducted research testing the idea that the unenthusiastic reception which women leaders receive upon appointment contributes to their organizational disidentification and a subsequent inclination to ‘opt-out’ of organizational life (Peters, Ryan, Haslam & Hersby). In particular, an experimental study with senior policewomen shows that perceived fit (or lack of it) is a major determinant of women leaders’ organizational identification and their motivations to pursue or abandon their careers. This pattern has also been replicated in a large study (N=242) with women who are working towards a career in surgery (Peters, Ryan & Haslam).


Change and mental health

Stream 3 focused on change and mental health. More specifically, we (Jetten, Haslam, C., Haslam, A., Williams, Jones, and Gleibs) studied the interplay between social identity, mental health and well-being. Social groups are important to people because they provide them with a sense of belonging and help them to position themselves in the world. Given this influence, it is not surprising to find that these groups are central to the way we respond to life changes and provide the means to protect health and well-being.

There are various ways in which social groups achieve these outcomes and in this stream we explore mechanisms of social support in the context of (a) social exclusion and (b) identity change and loss arising from neurological disease or injury.

  • Social exclusion: First, we examined how people who face exclusion on the basis of group membership (e.g., ethnicity, gender, class) use identities as a resource to protect well-being and mental health. The overarching purpose of work in this area was to test the hypothesis that the answer centres around groups’ engagement in collective strategies to produce social change.
  • Identity change and loss: The impact that neurological trauma and disease has on physical and cognitive function is well established. However, the impact of such disease on one’s sense of self is now being questioned given the devastating impact that identity change and loss can have on recovery. Work in this area focused on understanding identity loss and change in people with an acquired brain injury and dementia and highlighted the importance of maintaining valued social group memberships and (re)constructing social identities in protecting well-being. This work also addressed difficulties survivors of injury had in developing social networks due to the effects of injury on processing of emotion.

In close collaboration with clinical and health researchers we extended these findings to incorporate socially-driven interventions to counteract some of the negative effects associated with identity change and loss.