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Reference groups

This is a picture of the U.S. Naval Academy's football team in their locker room.
Athletes are often viewed as a reference group for young people. (Photo courtesy of Johnny Bivera/U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons)

A reference group is a group that people compare themselves to—it provides a standard of measurement. In U.S. society, peer groups are common reference groups. Kids and adults pay attention to what their peers wear, what music they like, what they do with their free time—and they compare themselves to what they see. Most people have more than one reference group, so a middle school boy might look not just at his classmates but also at his older brother’s friends and see a different set of norms. And he might observe the antics of his favorite athletes for yet another set of behaviors.

Some other examples of reference groups can be one’s cultural center, workplace, family gathering, and even parents. Often, reference groups convey competing messages. For instance, on television and in movies, young adults often have wonderful apartments and cars and lively social lives despite not holding a job. In music videos, young women might dance and sing in a sexually aggressive way that suggests experience beyond their years. At all ages, we use reference groups to help guide our behavior and show us social norms. So how important is it to surround yourself with positive reference groups? You may not recognize a reference group, but it still influences the way you act. Identifying your reference groups can help you understand the source of the social identities you aspire to or want to distance yourself from.

College: a world of in-groups, out-groups, and reference groups

About a dozen young females are shown sitting in chairs at a sorority recruitment on campus.
Which fraternity or sorority would you fit into, if any? Sorority recruitment day offers students an opportunity to learn about these different groups. (Photo courtesy of Murray State/flickr)

For a student entering college, the sociological study of groups takes on an immediate and practical meaning. After all, when we arrive someplace new, most of us glance around to see how well we fit in or stand out in the ways we want. This is a natural response to a reference group, and on a large campus, there can be many competing groups. Say you are a strong athlete who wants to play intramural sports, and your favorite musicians are a local punk band. You may find yourself engaged with two very different reference groups.

These reference groups can also become your in-groups or out-groups. For instance, different groups on campus might solicit you to join. Are there fraternities and sororities at your school? If so, chances are they will try to convince students—that is, students they deem worthy—to join them. And if you love playing soccer and want to play on a campus team, but you’re wearing shredded jeans, combat boots, and a local band T-shirt, you might have a hard time convincing the soccer team to give you a chance. While most campus groups refrain from insulting competing groups, there is a definite sense of an in-group versus an out-group. “Them?” a member might say. “They’re all right, but their parties are nowhere near as cool as ours.” Or, “Only serious engineering geeks join that group.” This immediate categorization into in-groups and out-groups means that students must choose carefully, since whatever group they associate with won’t just define their friends—it may also define their enemies.

Summary

Groups largely define how we think of ourselves. There are two main types of groups: primary and secondary. As the names suggest, the primary group is the long-term, complex one. People use groups as standards of comparison to define themselves—both who they are and who they are not. Sometimes groups can be used to exclude people or as a tool that strengthens prejudice.

Short answer

How has technology changed your primary groups and secondary groups? Do you have more (and separate) primary groups due to online connectivity? Do you believe that someone, like Levy, can have a true primary group made up of people she has never met? Why, or why not?

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Compare and contrast two different political groups or organizations, such as the Occupy and Tea Party movements, or one of the Arab Spring uprisings. How do the groups differ in terms of leadership, membership, and activities? How do the group’s goals influence participants? Are any of them in-groups (and have they created out-groups)? Explain your answer.

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The concept of hate crimes has been linked to in-groups and out-groups. Can you think of an example where people have been excluded or tormented due to this kind of group dynamic?

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Further research

For more information about cyberbullying causes and statistics, check out this website: (External Link)

References

Cooley, Charles Horton.1963 [1909]. Social Organizations: A Study of the Larger Mind . New York: Shocken.

Cyberbullying Research Center. n.d. Retrieved November 30, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

Hinduja, Sameer, and Justin W. Patchin.2010. “Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Suicide.” Archives of Suicide Research 14(3): 206–221.

Khandaroo, Stacy T. 2010. “Phoebe Prince Case a ‘Watershed’ in Fight Against School Bullying.” Christian Science Monitor , April 1. Retrieved February 10, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Leibowitz, B. Matt. 2011. “On Facebook, Obamas Denounce Cyberbullying.” (External Link) , March 9. Retrieved February 13, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Occupy Wall Street. Retrieved November 27, 2011. ( (External Link) ).

Schwartz, Mattathias. 2011. “Pre-Occupied: The Origins and Future of Occupy Wall St.” New Yorker Magazine , November 28.

Sumner, William. 1959 [1906]. Folkways . New York: Dover.

“Times Topics: Occupy Wall Street.” New York Times. 2011. Retrieved February 10, 2012 ( (External Link)&sq=occupy%20wall%20street&st=cse ).

We Are the 99 Percent. Retrieved November 28, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

Questions & Answers

what are the types of sociology
Jerry Reply
There are Two types of sociology. Namely 1) Qualitative sociology 2) Quantitative Sociology.
Syed
But there are sociological trends and theories which came into light over the period of time
Ashish
types can be classified on basis of methodology (qualitative, quantitative, interpretative) on basis of subject matter (sociology of crime, law etc) on basis of perspectives (conflict, structural-functionalist) also historical classification like modernism, post modernism etc.
Sourabh
Hey
Muhammad
every one hear
Muhammad
They are two types of sociology; 1, Basic (pure) sociology and 2,Apply sociology.
Mohamed
p lease if all of you don't mind .. could share your nationalities... may this helpfull in understanding about our culture ..
Ritu Reply
..
Ritu
Indian
Sourabh
may this platform can give us cultural and other relevant knowledge about our societies if we share
Ritu
may this platform can give usefull and relevant knowledge about our socities and cutures
Ritu
what is an approaches bro
Muhammad
what?
Ritu
Nigerian
Amoo
well done 👍 share guys
Ritu
don't worry there is no harm to share about nationalities
Ritu
Indian
SHIVAM
thanks 😊
Ritu
for sharing nationality
Ritu
😁
Amoo
oops I did not even tell about myself .I am fully indian
Ritu
Is that all?
Ritu
the different kind of term for collective behavior is a. groip with same thinking
LISA Reply
plz answer,The grades in various subjects of a student are given below .Testat 5%level of significance that there is sognificant difference ib grades.Mathematics= 72,80,83,75.Statistics=81,74,77,88.English=82,90,87,80.Research=74,71,77,70.
Asma
"same thinking" seems a bit too structured for collective behaviour which is spontaneous and unstructured.
Sourabh
crowd,social moments,moral panic,riots ,disaster,mobs,riots,mass hysteria ,fads and crazes are some kind of collective behaviour
Ritu
one example of collective behaviour like we sing national anthem
Ritu
Ritu verma you are right
Amoo
could all of you share about in which nationality you belong
Ritu Reply
please don't take it other way I am asking bcz it will be good for all to know about nationality since we connected due to this group ... And how many countries have this app spread, how many countries have people connected
Ritu
India
Himanshu
ok
Ritu
Where can find the exam past paper and exercises of sociology?
Sammi Reply
you may search in you tube ... there are some question papers available ..
Ritu
in the city of Pakistan
Abid
🙄🙄
Abid
😥😥😥
Abid
is there. no you tube
Ritu
pls what's today's discussion all about?
Ojewande Reply
every one can start any relevant topic on sociology... bcz every question is imp about society
Ritu
explain the term subculture
Peter
identify and explain four types of subculture in the school
Peter
explain why the status of the teacher is important in schools
Peter
explain the meaning of social stratification
Peter
a subculture is just what is sound like a smaller culture group within a larger culture; people of a subculture are a part of the larger culture but also share a specific identity with in a small group
Ritu
thousands of subculture exits within united state ethnic and racial share language,food and costume of Thier heritage
Ritu
social stratification means .. Differentiation of posts is the main belief of social stratification. Social norms are taught through social stratification.
Ritu
In social stratification, the relationship with different situations becomes part of the social system. In a stratified society, inequality is found in people.According to which some people are considered higher or lower than others
Ritu
respected sir u r asking about why a status of teacher is imp I'm schools.. sir Without a teacher, there cannot be a school. Even a society cannot imagine ... Ancient Time Selekar has changed the nature of the teacher so far. Values ​​did not decrease ..
Ritu
teachers are very important for make a future of students .. everyone comes in this world with some special power ... but He is a teacher who makes a student release his internal power ..
Ritu
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam has told in one of his autobiography 'The Power of Prayer' that .." we came with a Divine Fire in Us."That Divine Fire cannot be achieved without teacher's help.
Ritu
what's is difference between premonition and foreknowledge
Ritu Reply
hello
suraj
g
Aimal
?
Ritu
difference between prescience and premonition is that prescience is knowledge of events before they take place; foresight; foreknowledge while premonition is a clairvoyant or clairaudient experience, such as a dream, which resonates with so
Aimal
hi
APARNA
in short foreknowledge is the knowledge of something before it's happened .and premonition a knowledgeof something is going to happen specially unpleasant
Ritu
..
Ritu
Hey bro
Muhammad
Who is the father of modern sociology
Shah Reply
who is the fat60f modern sociology
Shah Reply
Who is the father of sociology
Shah
august compte is called a father of sociology
Ritu
what can one become after studying sociology in Nigeria
Chisom Reply
What is the Socialization is culturally specific, but this does not mean certain cultures talking about?
Sammi Reply
yes
Kenneth
v
Kenneth
what is serfdom by Karl Marx
Ritu Reply
the condition of a tenant farmer bound to a hereditary plot of land and to the will of a landlord. it is Another form of slavery.
APARNA
thanks
Ritu
ghati and legory is markx
Abid
we often listen that he does root learning or he understand the concepts still I don't know what is difference between those ....which symptom shows ...
Ritu Reply
I asked from many literate people but don't gave a satisfied answer
Ritu
i asked from many literate people but they don't gave satisfied answer
Ritu
.....
Ritu
watch Jordan Peterson lectures on learning, it can clarify your misunderstanding
Sourabh
about what
Rafiq
yea! tell about what?
Badar
difference between understanding and root learning ..Because both seem the same from outside
Ritu
I would recommend watching Jordan Peterson lectures on learning (available on YouTube), It may help.
Sourabh
all right thanks
Ritu
learning and understanding are two sides of one coin.
Rafiq
all right
Abid
which one is firt and which one is late democrat and development?
Mohamed
inequality and social fractionalization how differenciated?
Siam Reply
fractionalization is reality it's positive .without social fractionalization social system will be destroy ... it is compulsory and inequality is a negative approach .both are different
Ritu
if there is negation of negation of everything so what is negation. of primitive communism stage
Ritu Reply
?
Ritu

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Source:  OpenStax, Introduction to sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Jan 20, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11762/1.6
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