Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Lowell A. Gaertner

Committee Members

Michael A. Olson, Joan R. Rentsch, Garriy Shteynberg


Identity fusion theory suggests that for strong group connections identity-synergy occurs between personal and collective-selves such that activation of one activates the other (Swann & Buhrmester, 2015). The social-categorization framework, in contrast, views the selves as functionally antagonistic such that activation of one entails muting the other (Turner, et al., 1987). The current research investigated these two conflicting theories by testing reciprocal activation of the selves across 3 studies. Identity-synergy should yield a reciprocal (not antagonistic) activation of personal-self when collective-self is active. Concurrently, I tested whether fusion moderated the motivational primacy of the selves—hierarchy with personal-self primary over relational and collective-selves (Gaertner, et al., 2012). Given identity-synergy and strong relational ties, all three selves might be equally primary for fused persons. To manipulate fusion, each study randomly assigned participants to think of a fused or not-fused ingroup. Afterwards, in Study 1 (n=155) participants rated how well personal-self-pronouns (I, me, my) versus collective-self-pronouns (us, we, our) fit 20 sentences, in Study 2 (n= 126) participants wrote 20 self-descriptions and rated how representative each was of their personal, relational, and collective-self, and in Study 3 (n= 285) participants completed a lexical decision task that used personal-self-words (and neutral and non-words) as targets preceded by a fused or not-fused ingroup prime or not. Fit ratings, representativeness ratings, and reaction time equated to self-activation. Reciprocal activation is assessed by a positive covariation between personal and collective (or relational) self-activation in Studies 1 and 2 and by faster reaction times to self-words versus non-words when primed by an ingroup (vs. no prime) in Study 3. Motivational primacy is assessed by the relative strength of the given selves in Studies 1 and 2 (and is not assessed in Study 3 given that only personal-self activation is measured). Overall, no evidence for identity-synergy was found across the 3 studies. Study 1 evidenced functional antagonism, but was not replicated. Study 1 and 2, however, tested and evidenced primacy of the personal-self. Importantly, fusion did not moderate the motivational hierarchy of the self-system. Implications for fusion theory and motivational primacy of the selves are discussed.

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