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Do new first year students seek optimal distinctiveness in a new learning environment?The learning experience of the first year student joining Higher Education Institutions (HEI) can be examined from a number of perspectives and we focus upon the development of identity within that new learning environment. A conceptual framework is presented to argue that the tension between distinctiveness and social identification of the learner with the environment, contributes to how the learner engages in that environment through their processing style. A supporting empirical analysis explores this argument for a small sample of new first year students in two UK HEIs studying business modules. We determine that students exhibit cognitive dissonance through exercising a dominant processing style that is not primarily seeking to identify with that learning environment whilst also recognising the benefits of a more engaged processing style aligned with greater identification with their peer group. We propose therefore there is a need for the development of social identification capacity within new students.