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The fundamental theoretical premise underlying the BFLPE is that perceptions of the self cannot be adequately understood if the role of frames of reference is ignored.The same objective characteristics and accomplishments can lead to disparate self-concepts depending on the frames of reference or standards of comparison that individuals use to evaluate themselves, and these self-beliefs have important implications for future choices, performance, and behaviors (Marsh ) have recognized that objective accomplishments are evaluated in relation to frames of reference, noting that “we have the paradox of a man shamed to death because he is only the second pugilist or the second oarsman in the world” (p. Historically, the theoretical underpinnings of frame-of-reference research contributing to the BFLPE derive from research on adaptation level (e.g., Helson ) formulated a theoretical model of the BFLPE as applied to ASC in an educational psychology setting.

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Marsh ) addressed this issue in a large representative sample of Hong Kong high school students by specifically asking students to evaluate the pride that they felt in attending their high school.

As previously found in BFLPE studies, higher school-average achievement led to lower ASC in their longitudinal study.

Because of the importance of ASC in predicting future achievement, coursework selection, and educational attainment, the results have important implications for the way in which schools are organized (e.g., tracking, ability grouping, academically selective schools, and gifted education programs). The authors would also like to express thanks to David Dai and Anne Rinn for their encouragement and assistance to us in preparation of our article, whilst still acknowledging that they might not agree will all the views expressed here.

In its simplest form, the big-fish–little-pond effect (BFLPE) predicts that students have lower academic self-concepts (ASC) when attending schools where the average ability levels of other students is high compared to equally able students attending schools where the school-average ability is low.

However, they also found that higher perceived school status had a counter-balancing positive effect on self-concept (an assimilation effect) that they likened to reflected glory and feelings of pride in belonging to a high-achieving school.

The net effect of these counterbalancing influences was clearly negative, indicating that the contrast effect was stronger than the assimilation effect.

General academic self-concept refers to students’ self-perceptions of their academic accomplishments, their academic competence, their expectations of academic success and failure, and academic self-beliefs.

Importantly, this general ASC can also be broken into components related to broad academic disciplines (e.g., math and verbal self-concepts) as well as even more specific components of academic self-concept related to specific school subjects (e.g., history, English, foreign language, mathematics, computer studies, science, etc.; see Marsh ) demonstrated that support for the BFLPE was highly domain specific; whilst ASC was strongly influenced by individual student achievement (positively) and school-average achievement (negatively), neither individual nor school-average achievement had much effect on either global self-esteem or non-academic components of self-concept.

The big-fish–little-pond effect (BFLPE) predicts that equally able students have lower academic self-concepts (ASCs) when attending schools where the average ability levels of classmates is high, and higher ASCs when attending schools where the school-average ability is low.

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