Andy and the Odd Socks: how a rock concert for kids sends a powerful message about social identity

This article by Dr Nicola Power, from the University of Liverpool’s Management School, was first published by `The Conversation’.

Like many parents, the music I find myself listening to has drastically changed since having children. My young children are fans of Andy and the Odd Socks, the band featured in the CBBC show Andy and the Band, and, it turns out, so am I.

I won’t deny that I’ve been found singing along to their songs while driving – with empty car seats in the back. When the Odd Socks announced that they were going on tour, I was first in line to buy tickets for my family.

I knew we’d enjoy the concert. But I wasn’t prepared to experience something I research in my role as a social psychologist – the formidable power of a shared social identity. My time at the gig reminded me how powerful social identity can be in helping to break down barriers, forge unexpected friendships, and the joy that comes from social connection.

The social identity approach is a dominant theory in my field. It argues that we are motivated to categorise ourselves and others into social groups, and that this process of categorisation influences our attitudes and behaviour.

Social categories can be based on observable cues, such as age and gender. They can also be based on psychological groupings, such as sharing a common attitude or belief – so we might feel more drawn to people who, for example, support the same sports team as we do.

We tend to hold more positive attitudes about those in our in-groups – the people who we see as “us” – and distance ourselves from those in out-groups – the people who we see as “them”. It is a powerful theory that has been used to explain a range of human tendencies, including kindness, empathy and trust, along with prejudice, discrimination and hate.

Finding community

The ethos of Andy and the Odd Socks, through their music and in the TV show, is to promote acceptance, tolerance and inclusion – they have joined forces with charities like the Anti-Bullying Alliance, for instance, to advocate against bullying. Those who identify with the band are likely to also share these values.

It started small: on our walk up to the venue my son excitedly called out “Mummy! They’re wearing odd socks!”, as he pointed to another young family. I smiled warmly – my young social scientist had shrewdly identified a visual cue to his in-group

Research has shown that even the most basic grouping cues, such as wearing the same mismatched socks, can increase positive attitudes towards others. Even I, as someone aware of this effect, automatically warmed to this young family.

We arrived at the concert and took our seats. The kids were excited, and so were the parents. We shared knowing looks as yet another member of our brood needed the loo before the show. These cues of similarity were small, but they added to a growing sense of “us-ness” that was slowing spreading throughout the crowd.

Adjusting behaviour

We were not a natural in-group, largely due to our inter-generational mix from babies through to grandparents. Yet over time, parental conservativism gave way to a growing group norm. As the band began to play the kids started dancing on their chairs, then jumping in the aisles. Before long, they were swarming towards the stage – and the parents were joining in!

Research shows that we adjust our behaviour to align with the social norms of our in-groups. Here, the kids were leading and shaping these group norms as the parents relinquished their adultness and embraced their inner child.

What’s more, this child-like norm lasted beyond the confines of the gig. When we later stopped for a drink on the way home, a table of adults with two small children, noting our brightly coloured socks, gleefully showed their ankles and shouted “Who’s in the Odd Socks?!” to which our family happily replied “We are!” – quoting an Odd Socks song.

Identifying through diversity

A dominant theme throughout Andy and the Odd Socks’ music is celebrating our differences, as in my personal favourite song “Unique”. Andy and the Odd Socks have cleverly turned social identity theory on its head, creating a social in-group that defines itself as mismatched, highlighting that our differences can also bond us.

“Unique” by Andy and the Odd Socks.

It is easy to dismiss children’s entertainment as superficial and meaningless to the adult world. But there seems to be a growing trend for socially conscious kids entertainment, through the likes of Andy and the Odd Socks, and TV shows such as Bluey.

As both a parent and social psychologist, my weekend experience has given me faith in the positive social good that can come from children’s entertainment. In the words of the Odd Socks themselves, perhaps it’s true that “if the kids are united, then we’ll never be divided”.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.