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Abstract

Although individuals may view themselves as part of a group (e.g., couple, a family, or a nationality) when comparing to others, most contemporary theory and research in psychology focuses on the interpersonal comparisons that individuals make to other individuals. The prevailing view is quite individually oriented as it emphasizes the closeness between individuals as the most important basis of interpersonal comparison. However, membership in a meaningful ‘reference group’ typically frames interpersonal comparison, even where individuals do not consciously attend to the group. This makes individuals especially likely to make interpersonal comparisons to other members of their reference group and for these comparisons to be especially affecting psychologically. These are the central tenets of reference group theory (Hyman, 1942; Merton, 1957). In this paper, we use reference group theory to highlight the role of group membership in what otherwise appear to be individually oriented interpersonal comparisons.