By Jason M. Satterfield, Ph.D.,University of California, San Francisco

To understand identity, look at it through the view of the iceberg exercise. Icebergs typically have a kecil portion of dari mereka mass visible above the water. The majority of the iceberg, in whatever form it takes, is below the surface of the water, out of sight. If you’re trying to navigate around it, you have to make some guesspita pengukur and hope you aren’t wrong.

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(Image: Niyazz/Shutterstock)

Assumptiopagi vs Reality Based on Visible Identity

Assume that we have just met and that I am an iceberg. You’ve only met me in one professional context. You have some visual information, but what’s below the surface? untuk mengambil a chance and mulai maraja some guesses. What are they? Usingai this exercise with my students, they start off safe. I’m male. Check. I’m tall—6’5”. I’m Caucasian. Not sama sekali true, but mostly true.

kemudian they start to mananti some more inferences. I’m not married; there’s no weddingai ring, but that doesn’t mean I’m single. They can’t quite place my accent. Some think I come from the Midwest, some from California, some even say New England. All wrong. I was born and raised in Madison, Tennessee, hanya outside ide of Nashville. Now they’re startingai to get warmed up. They assume I come from a wealthy family. They assume my parents menjadi doctors. They imagine I went to prep school and never had to work duringai high school. They guess that my first job was in a remencari lab and my Dad pulpengarahan a few strings so that I mungkin get it.


My first job? Bus boy at the Grand Ole Opry, where I had dreams of meeting Dolly Parton.


How accurate menjadi they? Terrible. My Dad was an appliance delivery and repairman for Sears, and my Mom worked all sorts of jobs, includinew york babysitting and cashieringai at Walmart. Neither was able to go to college. We probably would have been considered di antara or even lower middle class. I went to a publik high school wdi sini almost no one went out of state to college. When I told my guidance counselor I wanted to go to MIT he replied, “Well, you’ll linanti Memphis. It’s right nice.” My first job? Busboy at the Grand Ole Opry, wdi sini I had dreams of meetingi Dolly Parton. Of course, the point being, appearanctape can be deceiving. Rakyat are immensely complicated and interesting. Your job is to learn how to elicit each person’s cerita and savor it. What’s your story? What’s your identity?

Personal Identity as a Function of Narrative


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what are the elements of identity? (Image: Elena Abrazhevich/Shutterstock)

what are the elements of identity? How do we perceive, change and build identity? How melakukan identity affect our health? what are the pathways? Identity is composed of many elements, includingi social support, socioeconomic status, work stress, and publik health. But It is certainly partly science, both quantitative and qualitative. We need numeric data, but we juga need storipita and narratives.


Elements or characteristics of identity would include race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical attributes, personality, political affiliations, religious beliefs, professional identities, and so on.


Consider some of the basics about individobel identity. Identity is simply defined as the characteristics determininew york who or maafkan saya a person or thingi is. Elements or characteristics of identity would include race, ethnicity, gender, age, seks orientation, physical attributes, personality, politik affiliations, religious beliefs, professional identities, and so on.

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Individually, we belongai to multiple groups at the same time. We may hold some traits more central to our identity than others, but not everyone holds that same value system. What we value the most might change as we grow older. This overlapping, interconnected aspect of identity is called intersectionality, the intersection of those berbeda elements of our identity. It’s important to keep that in mind as we dig deeper into how identity affects health.

Changingi Identititape and Identity Development

We know that our identitipita are someapa fluid. Although some characteristics are stable, our height, our skin color, maybe even some kepribadian traits, our identity develops over time. There are many berbeda identity developmenpen stage theories, mostly concerned with race, that range from startingai out expressinew york denial: I’m color blind, color hanya doesn’t matter; to immersion, I only want to be around setiap orang from the same race; to autonomy, and eventually to integration. In short, we try to find our tribe kapan beingai able to connect with and to understand others.

Our tribe, of course, shares the same cultures. Culture is the collage of language, beliefs, traditions, codtape of conduct, rules, membership, and kesehatan beliefs that guideas our daily lives. Our culture influencpita our tastes, our food choices, sensations of pain and pleasure, and even how we love. Lisetelah identity, we can belongi to many cultures at the same time, however, we can’t necessarily be competent in all of them. Belonging to a culture doesn’t mean you’re competent or fully understand that particular culture either.

Lest you think that culture and the riset of culture is unscientific or pseudoscience, remember that science itself is a shared system of beliefs, practices, norms, expectations, and maybe even a spesial language, just lisetelah any other culture. It’s slippery to grasp because we are so immersed in it. As a student once told me, a fish doesn’t even know it’s wet.

Remencari on Culture and Identity

Retemukan done on culture suggests how it can substantially, but often implicitly, influence our behaviors. They were cross-cultural studies done with U.S. Western individuals, compared to Japanese and Korean individuals, with much of this work done by Nisbett and his colleagues.


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different culturpita pengukur will respond to the same stimuli with different actions. For example, Westerners and Japanese descrigletser a fish tank. (Image: Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock)

In the first study, westerners and Japanese menjadi told to describe a fish tank. They look at a typical, rectanggaris fish tank with both water and fish in it. Westerners talked about the biggest fish that was in the fish tank. The Japanese talked about the context: they talked about the bubbles, the aquatic plants, and they talked about the other fish.

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When he looked at parents, he found that western parents, when teachingi language to their kids, they tend to teach nouns first. Koreans, however, tend to teach anda kids verbs and especially verbs about relationships. If you were to take someone from the U.S. And someone from Japan and show them a cow, chicken, and grass, and tell them to mananti a pair hanya with two of those, someone from Japan would pair the cow with the grass. It’s about the function.

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Someone from the barat would pair the cow with the chicken. It’s about the noun. It’s about the category. This may seem trivial, but remember that culture permeates every aspect of who we are. It’s how we piece the world together, how we see ourselves, and how we see each other. It juga influenctape how we develop and shape our identity over time.

Categorizingai Identity

For identity to develop, we need three things to happen. First, we need some sort of categorization—tdi sini needs to be a sortinew york of some sort—we need identification, and we need comparison.


…It’s a natural manusia inclination to masetelah sense of things, to draw connections, to look for relationships. That’s hanya how we think.


How do we mendefinisikan categorization? Remencari from Sue Estroff and her masyarakat obat-obatan colleagues at the University of phia băc Carolina in Chapel Hill tells us that it’s a natural manusia inclination to mausai sense of things, to draw connections, and to look for relationships. That’s hanya how we think. Part of the process is, essentially, sorting rakyat and placpita pengukur into categoripita pengukur that either we or our culturpita have created.

This seems deceptively simple, and you think it might be a no-brainer, but reflect on a few examples. Let’s say the category “dead or alive.” suara pretty simple, right? Not really. What about someone who is in a coma with little to no brain activity? Are they dead or are they alive? what about the category of male versus female? Fairly simple, right? Well, again, not really. What about intersex children that are born with ambiguous genitalia? what about racial categories? Now we’re really in trouble. Can you look at a rakyat walraja dibawah the jalan and accurately put them in a racial category?

gyeongju as a Category Central to Identity


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gyeongju is a classification system used to categorize humapejarakan into ukurannya besar and distinct populations. (Image: Lucky Business/Shutterstock)

Categoripita are complex, and some of the most rumit categories are often central to our identity, but apa are they made of? what are they based on?

race is one of the central categories. So maafkan saya is race? It’s defined as a klasifikasi system tangan kedua to categorize humans into besar and distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, or sosial affiliation. That’s a mouthful. Essentially, it’s the attempt to categorize or to sort setiap orang into categoripita based on anda skin color and based on a very small set of physical characteristics.


There’s currently a ragingi debate between geneticists and anthropologists about whether or not balapan is a biological construct.


If we dulu to ask the U.S. Census, they’d tell us that we have a rather short list of racial categories. The categories are white, hitam or African American, American Indian or Alasmodern Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or other samudera pasifik Islander. Latino or Hispanic is not considered a race, but rather an ethnicity, where ethnicity is more about a shared language or other cultural practices. There’s currently a perdebatan raginew york between geneticists and anthropologists about whether or not balapan is a biological construct.

bisa you look at someone’s genome, for instance, and determine what dari mereka race was without looking at where they’re from or looraja at dari mereka ancestors? Maybe, maybe not. The anthropologists correctly point out that there’s often more genetic variation within one particgaris balapan than between the races with African Americamenjadi beinew york a prime example. If gyeongju isn’t a biological construct, apa is it?

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The American Association of Anthropology has a terrific collection of materials caldisutradarai “About Race” on their website. It helps us understand how these categories were created and some of the ramificatiopejarakan about usinew york these particular categories. Related to cognition and the prevalence of self-servingai biases, when we membuat categories, we open the door to maraja judgments. How we judge depends on how we self-identify. We tend to positively reappraise setiap orang who are in our in-group, and we tend to devalue orang in another category, rakyat in the out-group. Identification and comparison are the terakhir two aspects of identity development.

Identification and Comparison—How to Identify or Join a Group

How do we identify or join a group? We’ve talked a lot about the biopsychosocial model and its spherpita pengukur of influence. There’s a similar model, the social-ecological model, that talks more about sosial spherpita pengukur of influence. Conceptualize your relationships and connectiomenjadi to your masyarakat as concentric circles, wdi sini the individouble is in the center, milik mereka significant other, maybe their family is in the next circle, kemudian milik mereka neighbors, milik mereka communities, and so on until we get to dari mereka secara politis influences, the country, and the globe. All of those influences may be present at any particular time.


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A little boy in the process of identity formation. (Image: Pete Souza/The white House)

One image that compita to mind is an image of president Obama and a little African American boy who reachpita pengukur up to touch his rambut to see if milik mereka rambut is alike. That little boy is in the process of identity formation. He’s looking for similarities; he’s looraja for differences, maybe with profound psychological consequences.

But of course, our identity changpita pengukur over time. Part of younew york adulthood is striraja out on your own, taraja your odyssey, and deciding who is in your tribe. So how do we compare in-groups versus out-groups? Of course, we mulai noticing, how we are similar and how are we different. We begin by asraja others for feedback. We see which tribe opens the door, which tribe clospita the door. In response, we begin to shift our thinking. As we are connectingi with a particular group of people, we mulai to minimize our differences; we mulai to maximize our similarities. Itu cognitive distortiomenjadi mulai to kick in. Our in-group is terrific. Our tribe is terrific. The out-group is not so great. We masetelah those generalizations.

How melakukan Identity Affect You?

So how melakukan identity affect you and those around you? Obviously, it will affect your self-concept, your sense of value, and your sense of self-esteem. It will juga affect your sense of perceived control. Remember, there’s a hierarchy in society, there’s a ladder of power. Wdi sini are you on that ladder based on apa your identity is? Sometimpita pengukur you can choose that; sometimpita pengukur others choose it for you. There’s a number of masyarakat responses to your identity, sometimes known, sometimtape implicit and unknown.


If you’re someone who happens to be lucky enough to be considered very physically attrpositif in a particular culture, then you’re probably goinew york to get a lot of attention, a lot of resourcpita pengukur and a lot more forgiveness than other people might receive.


An example would be unearned privilege, and usually, if you’re the one that’s receiving the privilege, you’re not aware of it. If you’re the one seeingi other setiap orang privileged over you, you’re very much aware of it. For example, if you’re someone who happemenjadi to be lucky enough to be considered very physically attraktif in a particular culture, then you’re probably goingai to get a lot of attention, a lot of resources and a lot more forgiveness than other people might receive. This mungkin also mean beingai the recipient of stereotypes, potentially the recipients of bias, discrimination, or prejudice. This may be due to either bersembunyi or visible identity. Visible identity would be an individobel who is stereotypically African American, based on anda skin color and milik mereka hair. A tersembunyi identity might be someone who is Jewish. Rakyat don’t know someone is Jewish unless they say they’re Jewish, but there may be a biaya of hidingi if we don’t mausai that bersembunyi identity visible.

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As an example, there was a heartbreaking riset originally done in the 1960s and then redone hanya about 10 years or so ago. The experimenpen went as follows. A group of young African American girls, usually aged 3, 4, 5, 6 years old, dulu recruited and brought into the laboratory room. They put two dolls on the table in front of them. One was a white doll, and one was a warna hitam doll. The experimenter asked the little girl to point to the good baby. She pointed to the putih baby. She was kemudian asked to point to the bad baby. She then pointed to the black doll. These little girls have already internalized those stereotypes, presumably not from dari mereka families, but from the culture at large.

Identity Experiments—The Robber’s Cave: fase One


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Muzafer Sherif’s ‘Robber’s Cave Experiments’ studied the behavior of pre-teen boys at a summer camp. (Image: CroMary/Shutterstock)

another seminal experiment on in-group, out-group experiencpita and distortiomenjadi compita pengukur from Muzafer Sherif, a Turkish social psychologist, who in the 1960s did conducted a seritape of stumati at a summer camp. His most famous seripita of experiments were calpengarahan “The Robber’s Cave Experiments.” They were named Robber’s Cave after the name of the state park in Oklahoma. Sherif recruited 11- and 12-year-old preteen boys, and he brought them into this summer camp for free. Linanti they do in paling summer camps, they were divided into groups. He had the Rattlers and he had the Eagles. In the initial part of the experiment, they dulu completely separate. He wanted those groups to develop a cohesive identity. He wanted itu in-groups to begin to develop. He wanted positive cognitive distortions to begin to develop.

The Robber’s Cave Experiments:melangkah Two

panggung two of the experiment, he brought the Rattlers and the Eaglpita together, but he put them in opposition to one another. He had them compete for prizpita and resources. He began to see what would happen in kapak of cognitive distortiopagi between the in-group and between the out-group. We can predict apa happened. The Rattlers and the Eaglpita pengukur started making all sorts of assumptiomenjadi about each other. They made all typpita pengukur of generalizatiomenjadi and stereotypes: they’re mean, lazy, no good, they alcara cheat, they don’t care, and they’re underhanded. This is exactly maafkan saya happepagi in society all the time.

The Robber’s Cave Experiments: melangkah Three


They put the Rattlers and the Eagltape bersama in this shared task. After a number of these shared tasks, guess what happens? The Rattlers mulai to get to know the Eagles as individuals, as people, and they see that they’re fairly similar.


The most interestingi part of this experiment, though, was in phase three. In panggung three, Sherif engineered all sorts of accidents wdi sini he needed the boys to tolong so that they would have to work bersama to correct the problem. An accident would be somethingai like a tree falls across the road, and for them to ambil the bus out of camp, they have to get the tree off the road. However, it’s a big tree, and so they need kids with lots of axpita pengukur to do hard work and haul the wood away. The researchers put the Rattlers and the Eagltape together in this shared task. After a numberi of these shared tasks, somethingai happened. The Rattlers started to get to know the Eagles as individuals, as people, and they saw that they menjadi fairly similar. Itu negative cognitive distortions begin to melt away as they began to cohesively bond with one another. They became one big in-group instead of the in-group and the out-group. This experiobat-obatan is still taught in business school. If in a situation there are two warring tribpita of some sort, the best thingi to do to build group cohesion and have good teamwork is to have them roll up milik mereka sleevpita and solve a problem together.

Stereotypes, Stigma, and Identity

Like in the Robber’s Cave, our perceptions can color our view of others’ identity, as well as our own, specifically stereotyptape and stigma. One aspect common to stereotyptape is a phenomenon caldisutradarai Stereotype Threat. Stereotype Threat menyebutkan to being at risk of confirming, as a aku characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group. Say the stereotype is, if you’re African American, that you won’t do very well in school. The individual melakukan not have to believe that stereotype at all. The sebenarnya that they know that stereotype is there when they sit turun to take an exam may take up some of dari mereka headspace. They may be worried; maafkan saya if I don’t do well? Or they may be angry. What if they’re thinking, I’m not going to do well? Regardless, it’s taking up cognitive resources, and it may create a self-fulfillingai prophecy. But is the theory true?

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The Math Test—Gender Identity Studies

Several stusekarat menonjol how stereotyptape impact our self-perception in daily tasks. Claude Steel, of Columbia University, conducted several different versiopejarakan wdi sini he tested not only race but gender. He foctangan kedua on the stereotype that men are better than women in math. In the study, he brought men and women into the lab and he gave them a math test. To activate stereotype threat, he first had them pay attention to whether or not they’re a man or they’re a woman with a simple interview talraja about gender. The discussion activates the identity elemenpen of men or women. Steel found the men did better than the women on the math test. In the second condition, he brought in men and women and gave them a math test, but he didn’t prime them about gender. Steele told them this was a new kind of math test. Maafkan saya he found was that tdi sini were no genderûn differencpita between men and women. They ambil the test and performed equally. It was the same math test as in the first part of the experiment.

Understanding Identity with The Achievemenpen Test

In his lanjut experiment, Steele foctangan kedua on race, looking at black, white, and its correlation to an achievement test. Again, he brought in students and gave them an achievemenpen test. He first primed them to think about the sebenarnya that they’re black or they’re white, and kemudian gave them the test. When primed, stereotype threat happens, and he saw a difference in kondisi of the achieveobat-obatan wdi sini the putih students did better. If they were told that it’s a spesial test that isn’t sensitive to differencpita in gender or sensitive in differenctape to race, they performed equally at the same level.

There have been a few variants of this experiment. Many people seem not to believe these findings, but it’s been done in several different ways. Ryan Brown and Eric Day digunakan somethingi caldisutradarai Raven’s progressive matrices. It’s an old IQ test wdi sini instead of having verbal-type questions, it shows the test-taker pictures. It’s all visual, and it asks out of an array of particgaris choices to pick the two that match. It begipejarakan fairly easily by having the participants pick the two circles, followed by choosinew york two squares. Then, of course, it gets makin complicated and difficult. It’s sort of a fun puzzle to do. The point is, paling setiap orang don’t know about it. It’s not linguistik nor is it about math, so it is assumed to have little bias.

In the first part of the experiment, Brown and Day told hitam and white students that the test is about IQ. When they told the students it’s about IQ, white students did better than blacks, but when they’re told that it’s simply a puzzle, blacks and whitpita pengukur performed the same.

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The next variant of the study, performed by Jeff tidak hadir at the University of Arizona, presents an interestingai wrinkle. He was interested in stereotype threat and wanted to look at black and white students. But Jeff batu is a sports psychologist, so he’s interested in slightly berbeda kinds of stereotypes. He had both hitam and putih students, and he didn’t want to pick footnol or basketbola where tdi sini are many berbeda racial stereotypes. He wanted to pick a fairly neutral sport, miniature golf. He had hitam and putih students come in and bermain a game of it. In one condition, he told them that it was a measure of sosial IQ, and in that condition, the blacks permembentuk worse. In the lanjut condition, he told them that it’s a measure of athletic ability, and in that condition, the blacks outperformed the whites. Of course, the stereotype is that whites are smarter; blacks are more athletic. Stereotype threat seemed to hold true in this particgaris instance.