A person has a number of identities. The same person plays the role of a parent, child and maybe a member of a particular religious congregation. Everybody is also part of a particular ethnic group and is characterized by other identity factors, such as gender and sexual preference. Salient identity is a concept that makes sense of how a person responds to different situations, considering these multiple identities.
A person's salient identity is the identity that comes into play in a specific situation. Someone's salient identity changes depending on the situation. What identity comes into play in a specific situation depends on factors such as the level of commitment a person has to a particular identity. There are qualitative and quantitative characteristics to commitment.
When a person shares a certain identity with a greater number of people, his commitment to that identity tends to be higher. This is the quantitative aspect of the commitment to an identity. If a person shares deeper ties with people that she shares a particular identity with, this identity is likely to be more salient.
The higher the level of commitment a person has to a particular social identity, the higher the level it occupies on the person's salience hierarchy. For instance, if a woman has a large social network and a network that matters to her, based on her role as a wife, she is likely to place her identity as a wife high up on her salience hierarchy. This salient identity is likely to come into play more number of times than her other identities.
People tend to respond in different ways depending on how their salient identity is activated. Marketers could get consumers to respond favorably to their goods by activating a particular salient identity. For instance, they could appeal to feminine characteristics in marketing certain goods, bringing the female salient identity into play or advertise certain goods to appeal to African-Americans or Asian-Americans, bringing their ethnic salient identities into play.
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