When group membership gets personal: a theory of identity fusion

Psychol Rev. 2012 Jul;119(3):441-56. doi: 10.1037/a0028589. Epub 2012 May 28.


Identity fusion is a relatively unexplored form of alignment with groups that entails a visceral feeling of oneness with the group. This feeling is associated with unusually porous, highly permeable borders between the personal and social self. These porous borders encourage people to channel their personal agency into group behavior, raising the possibility that the personal and social self will combine synergistically to motivate pro-group behavior. Furthermore, the strong personal as well as social identities possessed by highly fused persons cause them to recognize other group members not merely as members of the group but also as unique individuals, prompting the development of strong relational as well as collective ties within the group. In local fusion, people develop relational ties to members of relatively small groups (e.g., families or work teams) with whom they have personal relationships. In extended fusion, people project relational ties onto relatively large collectives composed of many individuals with whom they may have no personal relationships. The research literature indicates that measures of fusion are exceptionally strong predictors of extreme pro-group behavior. Moreover, fusion effects are amplified by augmenting individual agency, either directly (by increasing physiological arousal) or indirectly (by activating personal or social identities). The effects of fusion on pro-group actions are mediated by perceptions of arousal and invulnerability. Possible causes of identity fusion--ranging from relatively distal, evolutionary, and cultural influences to more proximal, contextual influences--are discussed. Finally, implications and future directions are considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arousal / physiology
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Culture
  • Emotions
  • Empirical Research
  • Female
  • Group Processes*
  • Humans
  • Identification, Psychological
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Psychometrics
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Conformity
  • Social Identification*
  • Social Perception
  • Validation Studies as Topic