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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

EASP Seedcorn Grant Report by Elisabetta Crocetti

30.10.2019, by Tina Keil in grant report

University of Bologna, Italy; Project: “From Social Identification with Peer Groups to Identification with the Human Group in Adolescence”

Elisabetta Crocetti
Elisabetta Crocetti

A wide corpus of evidence highlights that cognitive, moral, and affective development proceeds from concrete operations and experiences to more abstract cognition (e.g., Lerner & Steinberg, 2009). For instance, when individuals grow older, they progressively move from concrete to formal-abstract cognitive reasoning (e.g., Byrnes, 2003). This fundamental developmental trajectory is consistent across several domains, but it is not yet known whether it also characterizes the development of a core component of social identity, that is social identification (i.e., the sense of emotional commitment to one’s social groups; Ellemers et al., 1999).

To fill this gap, this study, supported by the EASP Seedcorn Grant, adopted a social psychological approach within a developmental framework and it investigated whether adolescents’ identification with two peer groups (i.e., classmates, who are not chosen, but met on a daily basis in the institutional context of school; and friends met outside school, who are reciprocally chosen and with whom adolescents share a substantial part of their leisure time; Albarello, Crocetti, Rubini, 2018) can lead to a stronger connection to the more abstract and inclusive group of human beings (Albarello & Rubini, 2012). Thus, the first aim of the study was to examine whether the fundamental developmental trajectory, according to which development follows a main pathway from concrete experiences to abstract cognition, also applies to the development of social identification. We expected that social identification with these proximal groups (classmates and friends) would be positively related to later levels of identification with the human group.

In addition, we sought to understand which are the implications of identification with both proximal and abstract groups for adolescents’ social well-being, conceived as the appraisal of one’s functioning in the society (Keyes, 1998). Thus, the second aim of this study was to examine associations between identification with classmates, identification with friends, human identification, and social well-being. We hypothesized that social identification with proximal groups (classmates and friends) and human identification would be positively related to later levels of social well-being.

Participants were about 300 Italian adolescents involved in a three-wave longitudinal study (61.84% female; Mage = 17.49, SDage = 0.79). They completed measures of Identification with classmates and friends (Group identification scale; Thomas et al., 2017), Identification with the human group (Human identification scale; Albarello & Rubini, 2012); and Social well-being (Subscale of the Mental Health Continuum – Short Form; Keyes, 2005).

Longitudinal statistical analyses were conducted in Mplus 8 (Muthén, & Muthén, 1998-2018). The results of cross-lagged analyses highlighted that identification with peers, especially with classmates, was positively related over time to identification with the human group and not the other way around. This evidence confirms the hypothesis that the fundamental developmental trajectory, characterized by a progression from concrete to abstract processes in various domains, also applies to the development of identification.

Second, we found, in line with the hypothesis, that identification with classmates, identification with friends, and human identification increased social well-being at a later time. Notably, in addition to these direct effects, we also found two indirect effects. More specifically, identification with classmates (at Time 1) positively affected social well-being (at Time 3) through the mediation of human identification and identification with friends (at Time 2).

Overall, this study has important theoretical and practical implications. It provides novel insights on the rather unexplored issue of the developmental trajectory of identification in adolescence. Notably, to gain new theoretical knowledge on the processes at the basis of human identification of youth is necessary to develop evidence-based interventions for promoting social inclusiveness in modern multicultural societies (Albarello, Crocetti, & Rubini, 2019). More specifically, the present findings, which highlight the beneficial effects of identification with classmates, suggest that it can be particularly valuable to implement interventions in the educational setting, where youth can enhance their understanding of the diversity of the social world.

The results of this study were presented at the European Researchers’ Night (University of Bologna), at the AIP (Italian Association of Psychology) National Congress in Rome (Italy), and at the SSEA (Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood) Conference in Toronto (Canada).


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