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Reference Group

  • By: Michael E. W. Varnum & Brad J. Bushman
  • In: Encyclopedia of Social Psychology
  • Edited by: Roy F. Baumeister & Kathleen D. Vohs
  • Subject:Social Psychology (general)

A reference group is any group that people use as a point of comparison to form their own attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors. For example, new college students may use older (and presumably wiser) college students as a reference group to form their attitudes about politics, what clothes to wear, how much alcohol to drink, what music to listen to, what restaurants to frequent, and so on. In one classic study, college women attending Bennington College in Vermont between 1935 and 1939 reported their political attitudes. These women came from politically conservative, wealthy families who could afford to send their daughters to a private college during the Great Depression. At Bennington, these women encountered faculty members and older students who were much more politically liberal ...

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