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Role Theory

Technical Details

Name: Role theory
Author: Various sociologists and anthropologists are credited with being the founders, among them being Margaret Mead, Talcott Parsons, and Robert K. Merton.
Classification: Behavioural Leadership Model
Year: Modern theory of role was formalized in the 1920s.

However, role-playing has been occurring throughout recorded time and most likely before. Even animals portray behavior, as in parents representing to their offspring how to act. In fact, descriptions are so variegated that it can be argued that there is no one "role theory". Which aspects to include in a definition are often objective and may form a structural or functional purpose - or even both. Social theorists often utilize instrumentalism in explaining the purpose of role theory.


  • Role playing is a simulation of behavior as opposed to a being a mere description that might omit certain essential details.
  • Acting out enables one to formulate specific behavior and test it in an audience to see how people respond.
  • A social situation may be acted out in numerous ways and a composite can be constructed from this collection of scenarios.
  • As with all modeling theory, one does not have to wait for a specific real-life situation to occur but simply may produce it.
  • Role playing is quantifiable and reproducible and therefore can be documented for sharing and for future reference.


  • Acting out is restrained in time, space, and specific situation and may not accurately portray real life.
  • Actions of a role player representing an actual situation have not been validated.
  • The acting may not represent the actions of a typical person in the same situation. Everyone has their own peculiar parameters which may include a difference in socioeconomic classes, psychological dispositions, and so forth which may result in a different ending to the scenario.
  • There is no universal way of defining a role. There are always different perspectives, not the least of which is ideology and shape role descriptions.
  • Role playing may not be complete and some vital aspect of a situation may be omitted.


Role theory refers to the explanation of what happens when people are acting out social processes and the consequences of their doing so. Each person is an actor representing a typical individual in a real life scenario performing within a specific context and a set of functions with which are associated norms, expectations, responsibilities, rights, and psychological states. A role is a place in a model and the participant acts out a situation in the same manner that a person in real life would respond in that same situation. A modern rendition of the term is "avatar", used in gaming theory and modeled realities, such as "Second Life". The person in role modeling usually inserts their own personality through a representative in accordance with the way she or he interprets appropriate responses.

The Essence

The essence of role theory is to provide a model of behavior in a specific situation. A person assuming the character and activities of a person in a real situation will perform as if the situation were real. This is not unlike what actors do in a play. In fact, "play acting" often is used to describe role-playing. Role-playing became extant in sociological literature in the second decade of the 20th Century and the theories surrounding it evolved into behaviorism as has been represented by psychologists such as B.F. Skinner. Role theory has the following major components:

  1. Some principle functions of role-playing are conflict resolution and discovering details of a manifested behavior or the nature of a role. For example, a social function may provoke a person to exhibit a certain type of behavior, but having the person act out specific activities may bring out minutiae that a general description of those activities might not. Another example of the efficacy of role-playing is that a mere description of an activity may not reveal details presented by acting out.
  2. Role-playing helps elucidate social positions in education, economics, science and government, among many categories. Describing the activities of a teacher, for example, often cannot capture the details a teacher has to handle in an actual activity.

The Gap

One central problem with role-playing that is true of all modeling is that the model is only a snapshot of activity performed by an individual and may not be representative for everyone and for all time. Having a person teach a mock class in Biology 101 will offer the observer many aspects that a mere job description will not; for example, but there are typically many variations of that role playing that are required to capture a more complete picture. A professor may react and perform differently in the teaching of different course modules and other professors may take an entirely different approach to teaching. One may link the situation to statistical sampling; the more examples or situations a person acts out, the more complete a description of that role will be. One way of addressing the deficiency of modeling as a general representative of social activity is to increase the granularity of specification. In the case of the biology professor, the role may be refined to include acting to give a specific type of exam covering certain material at a particular time in the course.

Leadership and role playing

A leader who uses role-playing is acting out in a way that is presumably representative of any person in a specific social position. In a stark sense, one may think of "hero worship" or "position worship" by a leader who emulates. This person may focus on a quality, such as intelligence to act out. There may be a combination of aspects a person will attempt to portray.

A primary motivation for using role theory may be conscious or sub-conscious. Acting out consciously will usually mean that a person doing the acting is purposely emulating to convince others, to demonstrate what the role entails, or may be attempting to become what is involved in that role (perhaps through practice). A parent exhibiting behavior of a great scientist is acting as a leader by having the scientist speak through her or him and may wish to convince children to follow in the footsteps of that scientist. One speaking in front of a group of teenagers may want to portray what it is like to be a teacher and, as a leader of those kids, will act out what a teacher does. Those wanting to become leaders may focus on a specific trait, such as a speaking ability and may pace themselves through speaking styles used by an admired leader.

Application of Role Theory in Various Field

For psychotherapeutic purposes, the group leader may use psychodrama to encourage group interaction. This replaces talk therapy and involves people in a model depicting a real-life situation. Group and individual behaviors can be documented, charted and managed. A situation can be varied to fine-tune responses and feedback.

In service training, leaders will often resort to role-playing to encourage participants to act in a similar manner in their respective situations as leaders. Teachers, union negotiators and company managers are among the many classes of individuals that will engage in training sessions using role-playing to encourage desirable behavior.

Psychologist and psychiatrists often use role-playing to entice a patient to change deleterious behavior. For this reason, people rightly point to the physical and mental presentation of a doctor as being immediately relevant to a patient's recovery. A physician who smokes, for example, is literally not, a good role model for a patient attempting to quit a smoking habit. "Do as I do" is a paramount dictum.

The Ultimate Objective

All of these implementations of role theory have one thing in common which is to produce con formant behavior and in numerous cases, internalize it. The person who is role-playing a situation voluntarily usually wishes to conform or become like the reality. Actors, while they ostensibly "play the part" may go beyond assuming a role and progress into the reality they mimic. A leader using role playing to illustrate desirable behavior may exhibit the obvious intent to have group participants realistically replicate the actions they are playing out.

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i want Left brain oriented (managerial mind set) v/s Right brain oriented (Leadership oriented mind set) people theroy Not rated yet
I read about one theory during my MBA in year 2000 to 2002 that their r two type mind set people around us one Managerial Oriented (whom the author called …

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