In perfect harmony: synchronizing the self to activated social categories

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2012 Mar;102(3):562-75. doi: 10.1037/a0025970. Epub 2011 Nov 7.


The self-concept is one of the main organizing constructs in the behavioral sciences because it influences how people interpret their environment, the choices they make, whether and how they initiate action, and the pursuit of specific goals. Because belonging to social groups and feeling interconnected is critical to human survival, the authors propose that people spontaneously change their working self-concept so that they are more similar to salient social categories. Specifically, 4 studies investigated whether activating a variety of social categories (i.e., jocks, hippies, the overweight, Blacks, and Asians) increased associations between the self and the target category. Whereas Studies 1 and 2 focused on associations between stereotypic traits and the self, Studies 3 and 4 examined self-perceptions and self-categorizations, respectively. The results provide consistent evidence that following social category priming, people synchronized the self to the activated category. Furthermore, the findings indicate that factors that influence category activation, such as social goals, and factors that induce a focus on the interconnectedness of the self, such as an interdependent vs. independent self-construal, can impact this process. The implications of changes to the working self-concept for intergroup relations are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Image
  • Female
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Class
  • Social Identification*
  • Social Participation
  • Stereotyping