Ambivalent identification: Definition and explanation

Ambivalent identification


Ambivalent identification refers to the extent to which an individual or group of people perceive, recognise and are able to distinguish and label conflicting feelings about an issue. A number of studies have found that most people have a mixture of feelings towards their organisation at the same time which cases them to both identify with and dis-identify from their organisation or company.

Social psychologists have known for a long time that people often experience ambivalence, conflicting feelings and uncertainty in their interpersonal relationships (such as marriage & friendships) and have also found that most individuals are fully capable of:

  1. Consciously dealing both the positive and negative aspects of another person or entity like their organisation or family, and
  2. Can maintain the state of ambivalence or uncertainty about the relationship over the very long periods of time, often for many years (Thompson & Holmes, 1996)

Ambivalent identification has recently been found to be a key issue in organisational psychology and organisational sciences, and in particular is closely related to the level of organisational identification a person feels and that has a direct impact on their behaviour and the ability to be able to predict their behaviour in organisations. (Schuh et al 2016).

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Ashforth, B. E. (2001). Role transitions in organizational life: An identity-based perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Ashforth, B. E., & Mael, F. (1989). Social identity theory and the organization. Academy of Management Review, 14, 20–39.

Dukerich, J. M., Kramer, R., & McLean Parks, J. (1998). The dark side of organizational identification. In D. A. Whetten, & P. C. Godfrey (Eds.), Identity in organizations: Building theory through conversations (pp. 245–256). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Schuh, S. C., Van Quaquebeke, N., Göritz, A. S., Xin, K. R., De Cremer, D., & Van Dick, R. (2016). Mixed feelings, mixed blessing? How ambivalence in organizational identification relates to employees’ regulatory focus and citizenship behaviors. human relations, 69(12), 2224-2249.

Thompson, M. M., & Holmes, J. G. (1996). Ambivalence in close relationships: conflicted cognitions as a catalyst for change. In R. M. Sorrentino, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of motivation and cognition. Vol. 3: The interpersonal context (pp. 497–530). New York: Guilford Press.

Disclaimer: This is a research review, expert interpretation and briefing. As such it contains other studies, expert comment and practitioner advice. It is not a copy of the original study – which is referenced. The original study should be consulted and referenced in all cases. This research briefing is for informational and educational purposes only. We do not accept any liability for the use to which this review and briefing is put or for it or the research accuracy, reliability or validity. This briefing as an original work in its own right and is copyright © Oxford Review Enterprises Ltd 2016-2019. Any use made of this briefing is entirely at your own risk.

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