The SIDE Model (social identification/deindividuation)

A norm is an accepted social behavior. Using a fork to eat a salad is a norm, and people who comply with norms generally tend to find acceptance among others who practice the same. Let us say you enter a chat room in which you observe the other contributors using a lot of abbreviations in their messages, such as BTW for “by the way” and LOL for “laugh out loud.” The SIDE model predicts that you are likely to pick up this norm for yourself. In doing so, you are likely to appear more attractive to those around you and thus have a better chance of initiating relationships.

People learn to play by the rules, as it were, and in doing so increase their attractiveness to other players in this social game. Interestingly, the foundations of the SIDE model are built on psychological investigations into mob mentality. If you have seen news footage of a crowd in the midst of a riot, you may have questioned how people could ever behave so outrageously, smashing windows, setting fires, and looting stores. Clearly, these are all antisocial behaviours, yet they are committed in a very social moment. Psychologists call this process deindividuation because personal identity is decreased in favour of one’s social identity.

Internet communicators are not engaged in a crime, but the same psychological conditions seem to govern interaction and attraction online. In text-based interaction, there is less individuating information available to communicators

Over the last decade, Postumes et al. have conducted a series of experiments with group interaction to establish the power of the SIDE model to predict human behavior. These studies have suggested two important qualities to this processes.

  1. visual anonymity among participants in a group seems to foster stronger SIDE effects toward conformity and group norms than in groups where participants saw one another face to face.
  2.  anonymity also seems to encourage stronger self-categorization among users.

In one experiment where the participants were made aware of one another’s gender, the communicators tended to behave along the lines of their gender roles more than those to whom this information was not disclosed.

In summary, the SIDE model predicts that people will set aside personal identity and adopt the appropriate social identity in order to find acceptance among others.


Imagine that a child, Pat, arrives at the park only to find all the other children playing basketball. Pat might have no particular knowledge of basketball but wants to find social acceptance among these peers. Provided that Pat picks up the rules of the game and makes the effort to dribble, pass, and shoot like the others, the rest of the children are likely to accept Pat as one of their own. Likewise, when one enters an online social setting, one must put forth an effort to play along with one’s peers.