Who drives divergence? Identity signaling, outgroup dissimilarity, and the abandonment of cultural tastes

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 Sep;95(3):593-607. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.95.3.593.


People often diverge from members of other social groups: They select cultural tastes (e.g., possessions, attitudes, or behaviors) that distinguish them from outsiders and abandon tastes when outsiders adopt them. But while divergence is pervasive, most research on the propagation of culture is based on conformity. Consequently, it is less useful in explaining why people might abandon tastes when others adopt them. The 7 studies described in this article showed that people diverge to avoid signaling undesired identities. A field study, for example, found that undergraduates stopped wearing a particular wristband when members of the "geeky" academically focused dormitory next door started wearing them. Consistent with an identity-signaling perspective, the studies further showed that people often diverge from dissimilar outgroups to avoid the costs of misidentification. Implications for social influence, identity signaling, and the popularity and diffusion of culture are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior
  • Culture*
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Prejudice
  • Social Conformity*
  • Social Desirability
  • Social Environment
  • Social Identification*
  • Social Perception