The goal to achieve an optimal balance between conformity to and differentiation from others might influence people’s perceptions and actions. On the group level, pressures for differentiation from an out-group increased conformity with the relevant in-group. We hypothesized that increased pressures for differentiation from others on the individual level would lead to a similar increase in conformity with the in-group: the self. We used self-concept clarity and consistency as indicators of the level of conformity with the self. As we were interested in testing whether the effects of pressure for differentiation would also exist when rating the self-concept clarity and consistency of a friend, we asked participants to indicate levels of self-concept clarity and consistency for both the self and a friend. Additionally, we investigated whether individual differences in self-esteem, need for uniqueness, and social comparison orientation related to individual differences in self-concept clarity and consistency, differentiation, and the association between them.
The manipulation of the pressure for differentiation from other individuals was unsuccessful. Individual differences in the level of clarity and consistency attributed to the self were related to the individual’s level of self-esteem, need for uniqueness, and social comparison orientation. Furthermore, we confirmed earlier findings on actor-observer differences in that the level of self-concept clarity and consistency attributed to a friend was higher than the level of clarity attributed to the self. Further research with different manipulations of the pressure for differentiation is suggested, as well as further development of research and theory on the causes and consequences of pressures for optimal distinctiveness on both the individual and the group level.
Find the preregistration of this project on Open Science Framework: https://osf.io/zyx45/.