Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

David Day

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© 2019 Chiara C Schwab


Just as society has changed a lot within the past 100 years, the concept of identity has also evolved significantly. A big factor in the evolution of identity has been the realization that social and group phenomena influence all conceptualizations of identity. In this review, I explore identity through the lens of Optimal Distinctiveness theory (ODT), which proposes that humans have two opposing social motives (distinctiveness and inclusiveness) that position them amidst an internal battle over identity.

I start by defining identity and the self, including the distinction between the two. Next, I explore identity formation and different types of identity (personal, social, collective, and organizational). After that, I analyze the central identity motives of belonging and self-expression. Finally, I discuss theoretical approaches to the central question of this paper: when thinking about identity, what is the optimal balance between conformity and individuality?

By reviewing the existing literature, I have found that the optimal balance between distinctiveness and inclusiveness is none other than a balancing act. While identity can loosely be thought of as how a person defines themself both as an individual and in relation to others, it is evidently a very complex concept; there are multiple different types of identity, each of which involve balancing the need to fit in with the need to be unique. In order to reach optimal distinctiveness, it is vital for individuals to regularly engage in social interactions, reflect on their identity motives, and recognize the importance of both individuality and conformity.