Publication Details

Dixon, R. M., Marsh, H. & Craven, R. (2006). Social comparison theory and people with mild intellectual disabilities: it is more complex than you think. Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) 2005 International Education Research Conference: Creative Dissent: Constructive Solutions (pp. 1-16). Australia: AARE.


Social comparison theory offers an understanding of the effect of deinstitutionalisation on the development of self-concept for people with intellectual disabilities (Finlay & Lyons, 2000). Social comparison theory predicts that people with intellectual disabilities living in the community will make comparisons with non-disabled groups and as such their self-concept will decrease because of negative frame of reference effects (Tracey, 2002). However, there are indications that this conceptualisation may be too simplistic (Crocker & Major, 1989, Finlay & Lyons, 2000). Newer developments in social comparison theory and research emphasise the active nature of social comparisons (i.e. people have a choice in whom they compare themselves and on what dimensions, Dixon, 2005) and that people with disabilities may use selective processes in relations to groups and processes to bolster their self-esteem (Finlay & Lyons, 2000). This paper presents the preliminary results of a larger qualitative study of 5 women who had been institutionalised for long periods of time but were deinsitutionalised. The research explored the overall patterns of social comparisons that people with intellectual disabilities who have moved to the community make and whether people with intellectual disabilities categorise themselves through these social comparisons.

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