Reference Group is a term from social psychology identifying that group to which people refer or make reference in evaluating themselves. One may make reference to social science students Reference Group when contemplating what political party to vote for or one might refer to feminists Reference Group when deciding to change or not to change one's name after marriage.
A reference group has been described as "any group to which you refer your beliefs, attitudes, or behavior." This is pretty vague! But we can narrow the concept down to normative versus informational (sometimes called comparative) reference groups.
Normative reference groups set standards for behavior and evaluate performance. Typically, these are membership or anticipatory groups. This is clearly a reinforcement approach.
Recruits who "don't shape up" are refused membership. Existing members may be expelled. Obviously the individual must either value membership (or the group's opinion) for group norms to carry such potency.
Informational reference groups serve as a cognitive yardstick, providing information to individuals. Frequently this information informs the person as to whether or not they have chosen an appropriate course of action, or behaved according to standards.
Informational reference groups may or may not be membership groups. They may or may not be similar to you. Festinger's theory of social comparison processes postulated that groups comprised of similar individuals would be more informative, and, hence, more attractive to the individual.
How do we choose reference groups? Sometimes, of course, as with one's classmates or one's family, they are chosen for us. Similarity is highly important (especially on values, but also demographics), prestige or power of the group in society and sheer propinquity.
Reference Groups: Have you Ever Sought the Opinions of Others in making a consumer decision?
Why are Reference Groups Important?
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.
When shopping in a group, you bring your reference group with you. Why?
To get information or advice
To satisfy the expectations of others
To be like a certain type of admired person
Reference Group Influences
A reference group is the group whose perspective an individual takes on in forming values, beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and overt behaviors.
They set levels of aspiration.
They help define the actual items/services considered
acceptable for displaying those aspirations.
Types of Reference Groups:
Primary reference group vs. secondary reference group: people at your office vs. people in a professional organization.
Membership vs. aspirational: your gym friends vs. the Olympic team - want to be trim so join an exercise club.
Positive reference group vs. negative reference group (dissociative): liked vs. disliked groups - do not want to be unemployed, so seek degree with high employment rate.
Formal reference group vs. informal reference group: like SBC vs. a group of friends - learn the rules of a company where you would like to work.
Virtual reference group internet communities.