Opening Up or Shutting Down? The Effects of Multiple Identities on Problem Solving

69 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2009

See all articles by Lakshmi Ramarajan

Lakshmi Ramarajan

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Date Written: November 19, 2009


Across three studies, I investigate the distinct effects of multiple identity conflict and enhancement within people on two crucial aspects of resolving problems with others: integrative behavior and openness. The results of two studies support the hypotheses that multiple identity conflict is negatively related to integrative thinking while multiple identity enhancement is positively related to attitudes of openness to others. In a third study, I conducted an interpersonal dyadic negotiation experiment with business school students and found that, as predicted, these effects replicated and extended to integrative outcomes and open behaviors. This research shows that there are both harmful and helpful effects of multiple identities on interpersonal problem solving depending on whether those identities are enhancing or conflicting: multiple identity conflict shuts down integrative thought and behavior and multiple identity enhancement opens us up to other people.

Keywords: multiple identities, identity conflict, identity enhancement, problem solving, integrative complexity, integrative outcomes, openness, conflict management

Suggested Citation

Ramarajan, Lakshmi, Opening Up or Shutting Down? The Effects of Multiple Identities on Problem Solving (November 19, 2009). Harvard Business School Organizational Behavior Unit Working Paper No. 10-041. Available at SSRN: or

Lakshmi Ramarajan (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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