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Psychological Accounts of Nationalism and National Identity


            Nationalism and national identity are often interchanged in their usage when referring to the attachment of citizens to a given country. However, according to Andreouli and Howarth (2013), nationalism and national identity differ with regards to construction and motive behind the two psychological accounts. Andreouli (2010) explains nationalism as having a very strong attachment to a country and a sense of obligation in propagating the values of the country. On the other hand, national identity refers to the common characterizes that differentiates a group of people in a given territory from others. Nationalism is connected to national identity in that nationalist seeks to uphold the values of the country at all costs and believe that the country is superior to others. 

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            This paper compares and contrasts the psychological accounts of nationalism and national identity.

Comparison of nationalism and national identity

            Nationalism, according to Andreouli and Howarth (2013), is having a strong pride towards the common factors that are identified with a country such as cultural, ethical and political ideologies. Nationalism means upholding the values of the country over other values such as religion, racial or ethnical differences. People of a given country with a strong nationalism spirit are ready to go any mile to ensure that the common identities of the country are upheld. Although national identity also focuses on the values and common factors connecting people in a country, the psychological account does not disregard personal identities such as race, ethnicity and religious inclination (Andreouli 2010). This makes national identity to be more accommodating and tolerant as compared to nationalism.

            Unlike national identity, nationalism is having an extra strong love towards the values of a country and willingness to defend the values. Nationalist put their country first and others, and are ready to confront any party that seems to threaten their strong love for the country. The U.S is one of the countries that have for many years promoted nationalism through various incidents and situations that have faced the country. For instance, since the country got it independence from Great Britain in 1776, it has engaged in numerous wars and battles with various countries across the world (Botterill et al. 2016). In amassing enough servicemen during the wars, the U.S has continuously encouraged the citizens to uphold nationalism and put the county first. This strategy has been helpful in influencing citizens to enroll in military and security service and be ready to lose their lives defending the values of the country.

            Nationalism holds a strong belief that the values of the country are important for promoting cohesiveness and unity among citizens. In this regard, nationalist push for people to uphold the identities of the country because they believe their culture and values are superior to those of others. Nationalism differs from patriotism because of the strong and unbiased love towards the country. Unlike patriots who are able to criticize a country when it is making wrong decisions, nationalist remain with a strong love for the country even when it is making a wrong decision. According to Andreouli and Howarth (2013), nationalism is not negative and believes that a country can never go wrong, therefore ready to support any decision that is made. In its policy, nationalism holds a strong belief that people with the same cultural and ethnical identity should be bonded together as a nation that is free from influence by another country.

            Although nationalism is important for binding people in a given country together, it is often used as a strategy for locking out other people with a contrary opinion on a given subject. Nationalism ideologies are used to unite people who share same ethnic and cultural values together to embrace a given decision against another group.  During the debate on whether to take a military action against Iraq, nationalism ideology was used to push other people in the country to embrace the decision to invade Iraq. Nationalists believed that the U.S had the right to invade Iraq and root out the enemies that were standing against the values of the country. In their explanation, the 9/11 attack was a mock on the values of the country by the enemies whom they believed to be hiding in Iraq.   

            Like national nationalism, national identity is socially constructed. National identity is not an inherent quality; it develops over a given period of time as a person continues to interact with the people who share given values and way of life. For instance, under the DACA program, children were brought into the U.S while they are approximately less than 3years (Fathali 2013). As the children grow, they start learning the way of life of the U.S in addition to developing a strong attachment with the country and its values more than their home country. National identity is influenced by various factors such as sharing same national history, various symbols such as the flag, skin color, language, popular culture, cuisine, radio, and television.

            Nationalism is also similar to the theory of national identity because both psychological accounts are based on same personal factors both inborn and socially contracted (Andreouli 2010). This means nationalism and national identity lead to the establishment of a positive perspective about the country. It is through the development of a positive and strong attachment to the country that makes people be willing to defend the values. Nationalism accounts start with first embracing the national identities which leads to the development of a strong feeling of obligation towards safeguarding the values of the country (Andreouli and Howarth 2013). Both nationalism and national identity are similar only that nationalism is having a stronger sense of attachment towards a country rather than just sharing similar identities.

Contrast between nationalism and national identity

            National identity is having common features that connect people in a given national regardless of their differences in race and ethnicity. These factors may include culture, language, and politics. The national identity goes beyond the legal status of a person because a country can have illegal immigrants who share the same values as legal citizens. The U.S is one of the countries with the highest number of immigrants. Some of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S have been in the country for so long that they have manageable to embrace the same values shared by the citizens such as cultural practices, language and general way of life. According to Andreouli (2010), national identity is a psychological sense of belonging developed by a person who shares the same values a people in a given nation despite having other differences such as race and ethnicity. 

            People in a nation that share same values develop a strong pride about the country and enjoy being identified with the country. Unlike nationalism, when people embrace national identity, they fall in love with the country without having a feeling that they are superior to others (Botterill et al. 2016). They maintain a high level of respect for the other people’s national identities in other countries. Like patriotism, national identity comes with the belief that a country is prone to make wrong choices therefore ready to criticize any wrong move by the country they identify with. The common values and way of life embraced by the people form the identities that differentiate them from other groups. 

            Unlike national identity psychology which is socially constructed over a given period of time, nationalism is more of a political ideology that is mostly propagated and utilized by politicians. Nationalism ideology is used to create an identity and separate one group from the rest and use the unity to serve self-interests. Nationalism can be based on ethnic, civic and state; where civic nationalism stresses on diversity and embraces diversity in the country, ethnic nationalism stress on the dominance of a given ethnic group and state nationalism stress on the values in a given territory separated with borders (Horan 2014). This is why nationalism ideology argues for self-determination in order to find their best ways of promoting their values.


            Nationalism is used to describe the attitude of the citizens towards national identity and the action they will take to safeguard the identity. Nationalism and national identity are connected by the fact that they are based on various common characteristics such as language, color, culture and common origin. On the other hand, unlike national identity which is a positive attachment to a country based on social construction, nationalism is a more of a political ideology which uses to influence the country to strongly embrace national values and support decision meant to support the interests of the interests. With that embrace, national identity is more likely to praise and criticize a country based on the decision made, while nationalism believes that a country is always right and that every decision should be supported. 


Andreouli, E. and Howarth, C., 2013. National identity, citizenship and immigration: Putting identity in context. Journal for the theory of social behaviour43(3), pp.361-382.

Andreouli, E., 2010. Identity, Positioning and Self-Other Relations. Papers on Social Representations19. Online. Available At: < http://www.psych.lse.ac.uk/psr/PSR2010/19_14Andreouli.pdf>[Accessed 3 January 2018]

Botterill, K., Hopkins, P., Sanghera, G. and Arshad, R., 2016. Securing disunion: Young people’s nationalism, identities and (in) securities in the campaign for an independent Scotland. Political Geography55, pp.124-134.

Fathali, H., 2013. The American DREAM: DACA, Dreamers, and comprehensive immigration reform. Seattle UL Rev.37, p.221.

Horan, A., 2014. Nationalism, prejudice and intercultural education. Irish Teachers’ Journal. Online. Available At: <http://www.into.ie/ROI/Publications/IrishTeachersJournal/Downloads/IrishTeachersJournal_2014.pdf#page=77> [Accessed 3 January 2018]

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