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Role model refers to a person, real or fictional, who fills his or her role as a good or bad example for others. A good example is a positive role model. A bad example is a negative role model. The term role model on its own is usually taken to mean a positive role model.
A positive role model carries out a role demonstrating values, ways of thinking and acting, which are considered good in that role. Others hopefully will follow the example. A woman professor can be seen as a role model for other women, on the strength of her furthering of the profile of women in academia. Alternatively, she could be seen as a role model for aspiring academics, regardless of their gender, on the strength of her academic achievements and/or dedication to her chosen discipline.
Parents can be positive role models helping their children learn adult ways or they can be negative role models. In dysfunctional families parents tend to be primarily negative role models. The distinction in positive and negative role models can easily lead to accepting a false dilemma.
This can be
- In Sociology the term does not necessarily imply a good example; see e.g. Observational learning.
- Morally: moral example (in ethics)
- At work: Model worker or Stakhanovite (in socialism)
The act of picking a role model consists of first evaluating what are ones own values (answering the question "what kind of things are important to me") then finding a person (usually a famous person) that exhibits a majority of those points and then emulating that person.
The term role model first appeared in Robert K. Merton's socialization research of medical students. Merton hypothesized that individuals compare themselves with "reference groups" of people who occupy the social role to which the individual aspires. The term has passed into general use to mean any "person who serves as an example, whose behaviour is emulated by others".
Physicians as role models
In the field of public health, considerable literature has developed on how physicians and other health care providers can model healthy behavior.  Physicians who smoke tobacco or drink alcohol and drive have come under particularly strong criticism from commentators who view the physician's role in society as unique. 
- Identification (psychodynamic)
- Imitation (learning)
- Role perception
- Significant others
- Social influences
- Gerald Holton (4 December 2004). Robert K. Merton - Biographical Memoirs. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 148 (4): 506–517.
- Role model. Wiktionary. URL accessed on 2008-04-23.
- Watts, M.S. Physicians As Role Models in Society, West J Med. 1990 March; 152(3): 292
- Appel, J.M. Smoke and Mirrors: One Case for Ethical Obligations of the Physician as Public Role Model, Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, Volume 18, Issue 01, January 2009, pp 95-100
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