The Motive for Distinctiveness: A Universal, but Flexible Human Need

Vivian L. Vignoles

in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology

Second edition

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780195187243
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
 The Motive for Distinctiveness: A Universal, but Flexible Human Need

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Existential and evolutionary reasoning converge to suggest that humans in all historical and cultural settings will have an enduring and universal need to distinguish themselves from others and their ingroups from outgroups. European and North American studies suggest that people use a variety of positive and negative strategies to maintain their distinctiveness and that these strategies tend to be intensified when distinctiveness is threatened or undermined. Yet, there also appear to be significant individual and cultural differences in distinctiveness seeking, as evidenced by “need for uniqueness” measures; an important question is to what extent these measures capture true variation in the strength of the underlying need for distinctiveness, as opposed to variation in the perceived value of particular forms of distinctiveness or in the particular ways in which feelings of distinctiveness can be achieved. Research suggests that distinctiveness seeking is not reducible to the effects of other identity motives, such as self-esteem concerns; however, the relationship between motives for distinctiveness and belonging is an important avenue for further research. Given that distinctiveness seeking appears to be a fundamental human need, positive psychologists should focus on trying to channel the effects of this motive into more productive routes (e.g., creativity) rather than harmful ones (e.g., discrimination against outgroups). To the extent that benign and beneficial forms of distinctiveness seeking are available, valued, and encouraged in society, more harmful responses potentially may be reduced.

Keywords: culture; distinctiveness; identity; motivation; uniqueness

Article.  6120 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology ; Clinical Psychology

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