Create an identity

Identity-based motivation

is a social psychological theory of human motivation and goal pursuit, which explains when and in which situations people’s identities or self-concepts will motivate and to take action towards their goals.[1]

IBM predicts that the motivational power of our identities depends on which identities come to mind and what they are taken to mean in a given moment (termed “dynamic construction”), whether or not those identities feel like they fit with the current situation (termed “action-readiness”), and how experienced difficulties are interpreted (termed “interpretation of difficulty”).

People interpret situations and experienced difficulties in ways that are consistent with whichever identities are currently on their minds, and prefer to act in ways that are identity-consistent rather than identity-inconsistent.[2][3] When actions feel identity-consistent, difficulties that come up tend to be interpreted as important, suggesting actions are meaningful. On the other hand, when actions feel identity-inconsistent, the same difficulties suggest the behavior is pointless and “not for people like me.”

The IBM model was developed by University of Southern California Professor Daphna Oyserman, and has been used as a foundation for a variety of aspiration-achievement gap interventions in schools,[4][5][6] health,[7][8] planning, and savings.[9] Identity-based motivation theory is also used in understanding motivations behind giving both gifts [10] and charity,[11] consumer behavior,[12][13] and the interface between culture and identity.[14]


Have you ever observed individuals – fanatic football fans, patriotic nationals on independence day or even members of elite schools – forming their SENSE OF SELF based on their membership in those various social groups? Have you seen how this sense of belonging influences their behaviour and motivation – making them often do unthinkable things? We can explain this phenomenon well with Social Identity Theory, developed by Henri Tajfel and John Turner in the 1970s.

Social Identity Theory states that our self-concept – who we believe we are – is composed of two parts: Personal identity referring to the characteristics that are unique to ourselves and that make each of us different from others and Social identity which refers to the characteristics that we share with others in our social group, such as race, gender, religion, or nationality.

Theory explains that we all have a natural tendency to classify ourselves and others into different social categories and using these categories to form a sense of belonging. It also proposes the concept of social comparison – a process of comparing one’s group to others, suggesting that people are more likely to identify with a group when they believe that the group is superior to others in some way. When comparing their social group, people experience feelings of pride, self-esteem, and a sense of belonging when their group is positively evaluated (positive self-concept), and feelings of shame, self-doubt, and a lack of belonging when their group is negatively evaluated (negative self-concept).

In consequence, Social Identity can influence our motivation and behaviour through boosting self-esteem, stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, in-group bias, conformity and collective action:

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