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Optimal Distinctiveness Theory

Definition

“Everyone needs to belong.” “Everyone needs to be unique.” That both of these statements are true is the basis for Marilynn Brewer's theory of optimal distinctiveness, which helps explain why people join social groups and become so attached to the social categories they are part of. Optimal distinctiveness theory is about social identity—how people come to define themselves in terms of their social group memberships.

According to the optimal distinctiveness model, social identities derive from a fundamental tension between two competing social needs—the need for inclusion and a countervailing need for uniqueness and individuation. People seek social inclusion to alleviate or avoid the isolation, vulnerability, or stigmatization that may arise from being highly individuated. Researchers studying the effects of tokenism and solo status have generally found ...

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