As a product of our many social identities and varied experiences, we all find membership in different groups throughout our lives. These feelings of connection to a particular group range from loose group identification to complete identity fusion. The current study looks at people on the extreme end of this connectedness continuum or those with “identity fusion” with a particular group to which they belong. Identity fusion is defined as a deeply held feeling of oneness with a particular group. This differs from regular group identification, a looser-held feeling of connectedness with a group. People who are “fused” to a certain identity group often feel a strong moral obligation to defend other members of the group and act in ways that will promote the growth and well-being of the group as a whole.
The literature historically shows how identity fusion can lead to hostility towards other people in other groups. However, this study, consisting of four experiments, shows the exact opposite can be true under certain conditions. The findings of this research indicate a positive side to this phenomenon, ultimately concluding that identity fusion can cause positive feelings towards outgroups, as long as the outgroup is familiar and non-threatening. Moreover, identity fusion can serve as a “secure base”, much like a supportive caregiver, that encourages cooperation with members of non-threatening or familiar outgroups. These results flip the common understanding of intergroup dynamics on its head by offering a new explanation. Perhaps identity fusion is not the issue, but our lack of familiarity or miscalculation of threat is the issue that keeps so many of us divided.
This research asks us to reconsider how we think about intergroup dynamics, particularly in times of conflict. Additionally, the findings indicate that embracing members of one’s own fused identity group can translate to embracing members of the perceived outgroup. Below are some action steps, should you wish to leverage your fused social identity to foster social harmony.
- Reality Check - Take a step back to make sure that you are assessing threats from other groups appropriately, not out of bias.
- Get Familiar - Learn about identity groups to which you do not belong. The unknown will always incite an element of fear, so there is value in familiarizing yourself with the “other”.
- Start Local - Embrace the people within your groups. Cultivating positive intragroup dynamics fosters positive intergroup dynamics.
Vázquez, A., Gómez, Á., López-Rodríguez, L., Swann, W. B. (2023). Can identity fusion foster social harmony? Strongly fused individuals embrace familiar outgroup members unless threatened. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2023.104462.