Although cognitive factors such as perceived similarity, communication, interdependence, and structure are often important parts of what we mean by being a group, they do not seem to always be necessary. In some situations, groups may be seen as groups even if they have little independence, communication, or structure. Partly because of this difficulty, an alternative approach to thinking about groups, and one that has been very important in social psychology, makes use of the affective feelings that we have toward the groups that we belong to. As we have read, social identity refers to the part of the self-concept that results from our membership in social groups (Hogg, 2003). Generally, because we prefer to remain in groups that we feel good about, the outcome of group membership is a positive social identity—our group memberships make us feel good about ourselves.
According to the social identity approach, a group is a group when the members experience social identity—when they define themselves in part by the group that they belong to and feel good about their group membership (Hogg, 2010). This identity might be seen as a tendency on the part of the individual to talk positively about the group to others, a general enjoyment of being part of the group, and a feeling of pride that comes from group membership. Because identity is such an important part of group membership, we may attempt to create it to make ourselves feel good, both about our group and about ourselves. Perhaps you know some people—maybe you are one—who wear the clothes of their sports team to highlight their identity with the group because they want to be part of, and accepted by, the other group members. Indeed, the more that we see our social identities as part of our membership of a group, the more likely we are to remain in them, even when attractive alternatives exist (Van Vugt & Hart, 2004).