Identity Theories

Noel Pittman/Tara Gwyen/Jaheal Brown/Ren Donnelly

Cooley's Theory

Founded by: American sociologist, Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929)

What is it?: A person's self grows out of a person's social interactions with each other. How we see ourselves is not exactly how we see ourselves but how we think other people perceive us.

  • First, imagine how we appear to others
  • Then, imagine  the judgement that others make about us
  • Finally, based on those assumptions people would often change their behavior to conform

Marcia's Theory

Founded by: James Marcia

What is it?: The theory that states that there are 4 identity statuses

  • Diffusion - People who do not know what they want or where they want to go in life
  • Foreclosure - People who are committed with everything that was planned for the, without going out and trying to discover
  • Moratorium - People that explore and do not settle down in one place
  • Identity Achievement - People that explore all the possibilities and choose one to commit to. These people usually live happy lives

Social Idenity

Founded by: Henri Tajfel

What is it?: Social identity is defined as a person's sense oh who they are based on their group membership(s)

  • "In-groups" and "out-groups"
  • In-groups usually look down upon the out-groups to boost self-esteem
  • Stages in which humans evaluate others or social groups
  1. Categorization - People naturally try to sort objects to understand and identify them. In a social situations we humans create labels for certain groups so we can better comprehend and identify the social environment.
  2. Identification - Once these labels are created it allows people an opportunity to belong. For most humans, the sense of belonging is desirable and labels provide these people to adopt them as their own identity.
  3. Comparison - As social groups start to form and band they are left with comparing and contrasting against each other. Although this activity is not particularly a negative thing, prejudiced is.

Self Concept Theory

Founded By: Kendra Cherry

What is it?: Self-concept is the image we have of ourselves

  • There are 6 specific domains related to self concept
  1. Social - the ability to interact with each other
  2. Competence - ability to meet basic needs
  3. Affect - awareness of emotional states
  4. Physical - feelings about looks, health, and physical conditions
  5. Academic - success or failure in school
  6. Family - how one functions within a family unit


Cooley's Theory

  • Compared to the rest of the listed theories, Cooley's explain the process of what humans do to conform to the current society standards. The quote, "How we see ourselves is not exactly how we see ourselves but how we think other people perceive us." is additional information that supports social identity and the pressure of fitting in. While, Marcia's theory can be an example of the different types of people who act like a scale for the different effects of "fitting in". For example, some people don't care while others try to figure themselves out and create an appealing identity or impression. The definition of self concept is "the image we have of ourselves" this image can be influenced by how other people perceive us. Based on Cooley's theory a person's identity is formed from the beauty of absorbing social norms, pressure, and the environment around that person; so essentially Cooley's ideas act as a structure for the result of self concept.


How do we form and shape our identities?

We shape our identities by the people that we come across, our experiences in life and our social statuses. “Personality is formed by our genes and our environment We are influenced by what others think of us and want us to do Our personalities are formed early in life and sometimes they do not change but remain the same” (Carol Roach).

In a culture where we are bombarded with ideas and images of “what we should be,” how does one form an identity that remains true and authentic for her/himself?

In the article is talks about the identity status of moratorium. “In moratorium, people continually explore options and experiment with identities and beliefs but never make a decision or commitment.” (James Marcia’s Identity Theory: Understanding Adolescents’ Search For Identity) The people with this identity do what they want whether it goes against what their culture believes or not.


"Identity Status Theory (Marcia) | Learning Theories." Learning Theories. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. <>.

"Self-Concept Theory." - How Do You See Yourself? N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. <>.

"Social Identity Theory | Simply Psychology." Social Identity Theory | Simply Psychology. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. <>.

"The Looking Glass Self: How Our Self-image Is Shaped by Society." POPULAR SOCIAL SCIENCE. N.p., 27 May 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. <>.