Greater number of group identifications is associated with healthier behaviour: Evidence from a Scottish community sample

Br J Health Psychol. 2015 Sep;20(3):466-81. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12119. Epub 2014 Oct 1.


Objectives: This paper investigates the interplay between group identification (i.e., the extent to which one has a sense of belonging to a social group, coupled with a sense of commonality with in-group members) and four types of health behaviour, namely physical exercise, smoking, drinking, and diet. Specifically, we propose a positive relationship between one's number of group identifications and healthy behaviour.

Design: This study is based on the Scottish portion of the data obtained for Wave 1 of the two-wave cross-national Health in Groups project. Totally 1,824 patients from five Scottish general practitioner (GP) surgeries completed the Wave 1 questionnaire in their homes.

Methods: Participants completed measures of group identification, group contact, health behaviours, and demographic variables.

Results: Results demonstrate that the greater the number of social groups with which one identifies, the healthier one's behaviour on any of the four health dimensions considered.

Conclusions: We believe our results are due to the fact that group identification will generally (1) enhance one's sense of meaning in life, thereby leading one to take more care of oneself, (2) increase one's sense of responsibility towards other in-group members, thereby enhancing one's motivation to be healthy in order to fulfil those responsibilities, and (3) increase compliance with healthy group behavioural norms. Taken together, these processes amply overcompensate for the fact that some groups with which people may identify can actually prescribe unhealthy behaviours.

Keywords: diet; drinking; exercise; group identification; health; health behaviour; identity; smoking; social contact; social groups; social identity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Identification*
  • Social Norms
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult