“Everyone needs to belong.” “Everyone needs to be unique.” That fact that both these statements are true is the basis for Marilynn Brewer's theory of optimal distinctiveness, which helps to explain why we join social groups and become so attached to the social categories of which we are part. Optimal distinctiveness theory is about social identity, that is, how we come to define ourselves in terms of our social group memberships. Secure inclusion in a distinctive ingroup serves human needs for belonging and differentiation. The upside of achieving optimal social identity is that secure group identity enhances well-being and motivates positive social behavior. The downside is that insecure group identity motivates exclusion, intolerance, and possibly intergroup hatred. This entry begins with a fuller description of ...

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