Journal of Applied Social Psychology

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Do people turn to visible reminders of group identity under stress?

Abstract

How do people cope with stress? Research suggests that people have a number of strategies, including turning to the groups to which they belong, increasing feelings of identification and affiliation. We examine a novel extension of this strategy: adopting visible reminders of one's group identity. In two experiments (Ns = 103 and 194), we explore whether students are more likely to use an artifact that displays their university identity in situations of high, compared to low, evaluative stress. In Experiment 1, students were more likely to choose a university‐branded pen (vs. an identical unbranded pen) to complete exam questions when their performance would be evaluated versus not. In Experiment 2, we found the tendency to use a university‐branded pen in the face of evaluative stress emerged only among people who found the evaluation personally relevant. In addition, we present converging results from two observational studies suggesting that students are more likely to wear clothing that signals their university identity on exam days compared to control days. These findings suggest that people may turn to visible reminders of group membership when facing evaluative stress. Although we found no consistent evidence for a psychological mechanism underlying this effect, we speculate about theoretically relevant possibilities.

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