Big-fish–little-pond effect

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Big-fish–little-pond effect (BFLPE) is a frame of reference model introduced by Herbert W. Marsh and John W. Parker in 1984. Marsh and Parker argued that individuals compare their own self-concept with their peers and that equally capable individuals have higher self-concepts when in a less capable group than in a more capable group.[1][2]

The BFLPE hypothesizes that it is better for academic self-concept to be a big fish in a little pond (gifted student in regular reference group) than to be a small fish in a big pond (gifted student in gifted reference group). Research evidence for the big-fish-little-pond effect (BFLPE) has demonstrated that attending high-ability schools has a negative effect on academic self-concept.

It was publicized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.


  1. ^ Perry, Clark, Jr.; Marsh, Herbert W. (2000-01-01). "Listening to Self-Talk, Hearing Self Concept". In Andersen, Mark B. Doing Sport Psychology. Human Kinetics. pp. 64–65. ISBN 9780736000864. 
  2. ^ Marsh, Herbert W.; Parker, John W. (July 1984). "Determinants of student self-concept: Is it better to be a relatively large fish in a small pond even if you don't learn to swim as well?". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 47(1) (Jul 1984): 213–231. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.47.1.213. Retrieved August 31, 2016. 

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