Reference Group: Sociological Concepts, Definitions and Introduction

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  • Hunt and Horton - Groups which are important as model for one՚s ideas and conduct norms are reference groups
  • Ogburn and Minkoff: Groups which serve as points of comparison are known as reference groups. They also said that reference groups are those groups from which we get our values or whose approval we seek.


  • An outline of Social Psychology by Muzaffer Sheriff in 1948 and Herbert Hyman in Archives of Social Psychology
  • Opposite of membership group - where one belongs to
  • Reference group refers to a group that affects the behaviours of an individual.
  • Points of comparison
  • Seeks approval
  • We get values
  • Their Value judgements become our value judgements
  • Influenced by others or group whose member he isn՚t
  • Passive or silent way of influencing

Is Family a Reference Group or Membership Group?

  • Family members are both reference and membership group because the child looks up to the members of the family and is influenced by their behaviours.
  • As the child grows up, he looks up to other people for approval and disapproval and selects particular groups which are the reference groups

How Are They Different from Each Other?

  • Reference group has relevance to participation situations
  • Complex , Heterogenous society members look for different memberships in various groups
  • In villages or rural society, differences are less.

Situations when a Reference Group is Identified as So

  • Aspiration to become the member of a different group: example upper middle-class people interested in joining rank of upper-class people so they may show prejudice against lower ranking groups
  • When members of one group struggle to imitate members of reference group: example low caste people because of their inferiority and struggle try to practice their styles of upper caste people to gain respect in the society
  • When members of one group derive some satisfaction from being distinctive and unlike the members of reference group on some aspects: e. g. in order for the whites to maintain their status of being white and blacks to maintain the status of being black they continue with their distinction so that they are not alike
  • When reference group has a standard for comparison example: when the students think of colleges and degrees, marks as the measuring rod to access their performance
  • Imaginary reference group by Kleinberg
  • Any person or group (actual or imaginary) that
  • serves as a point of comparison for an individual
  • in the formation of either general or specific
  • values, attitudes, or behavior.


  • E. g. normative reference groups include parents, siblings, teachers, peers, associates and friends.
  • A comparative reference group is a group of individuals whom you compare yourself against and may strive to be like. E. g. Celebrities.


1. Anticipatory socialization takes place due to which one of the following?

  1. Family behaviours
  2. Schooling behaviours
  3. Play group behaviours
  4. Reference group behaviours

Ans. d

2. Which among the following are reference groups?

(a) College going students

(b) Nuclear scientists

(c) Marine engineers

(d) All

Ans. (d)

3. Striving for admission is a ________ behaviours.

(a) reference group

(b) primary group

(c) in-group

(d) secondary group

Ans. (a)

4. Which of the following instances may not be considered as reference group behaviours?

  1. Proletarianization
  2. Embourgeoisement
  3. Sanskritization
  4. Modernization

Ans (d)

#Sociological Concepts


#Reference Group