One of the clearest findings to come out of our study was the relationship between group identification, group organization and group power.

Where people share a common identity (e.g. the Prisoners after the promotion), it leads to shared values and shared goals. It also increases mutual respect and mutual support. This allows people to work together as an effective unit. In short, a sense of shared social identity is the basis of effective organization and group power.

Conversely, where people lack a sense of common identity (e.g. the Guards throughout the study) they cannot agree on values or goals. As a result, attempted leadership fails and they cannot organize themselves. In the case of the Guards this meant that they didn’t put even the most basic structures – such as a shift system – in place. To do that, they would have to trust others while they were resting. Instead, they stayed ‘on duty’ the entire time, but more to keep an eye on their colleagues than to help them.

It wasn’t that individual Guards weren’t capable or weren’t trying. In their lives outside the study they were very successful. And within the study they put in huge efforts. But, lacking a sense of shared identity, the efforts of the different Guards cancelled each other out. The harder they tried, the less they achieved. Lacking social identity, organization, leadership and power eluded them.

Social identity is the psychological basis of organization and power

Social identity is the psychological basis of organization and power