When individuals aggregate into groups, the challenge of bridging distances becomes even more central. Because they extend across time, space, and disparate individuals, groups need ways to articulate and maintain a stable identity that can bridge across these gaps. In a second line of research, we study group symbols, such as monuments, flags, and logos, as tools that people use to communicate group identity to others and to maintain it across time.
Despite the fundamental importance of symbols to group life, very little is known about the social psychological processes that govern this aspect of group identity. What is the psychological function of group symbols? Why do nearly all groups have them, and when and why do group members place such a high value on group symbols?
Our research on this topic has shown that simply having a symbol (such as a flag, logo, or even just team colors) makes groups seem more real, cohesive, and potentially intimidating to others. Moreover, at some level, group members seem to know this: Our studies show that group members tend strategically seek out symbols when they are especially motivated to convey an impression of their group as cohesive and threatening rather than inclusive and cooperative.
Current and future directions in this line of work include examining how the particular content of a given symbol might influence group impressions, as well as exploring the effects of group symbols on group members’ perceptions of their own ingroup.
Callahan, S. P., & Ledgerwood, A. (2016). On the psychological function of flags and logos: Group identity symbols increase perceived entitativity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110, 528-550.
Callahan, S. P., & Ledgerwood, A. (2013). The symbolic importance of group property: Implications for intergroup conflict and terrorism. In T. Walters, R. Monaghan, & J. M. Ramirez (Eds.), Radicalization, terrorism, and conflict (pp. 232-267). Cambridge Scholars Publishing.