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Social Norms

 

Explanations > Theories > Social Norms

Description | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

The rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. These rules may be explicit or implicit.

Failure to stick to the rules can result in severe punishments, the most feared of which is exclusion from the group. A common rule is that the some norms must frequently be displayed; neutrality is seldom an option.

Other norms include:

  • Injunctive Norms are behaviors which are perceived as being approved of by other people.
  • Descriptive Norms are perceptions of how other people are actually behaving, whether or not these are approved of.
  • Explicit Norms are written or spoken openly.
  • Implicit Norms are not openly stated (but you find out when you transgress them).
  • Subjective Norms: Expectations that valued others have about how we will behave.
  • Personal Norms: Standards we have about our own actions.

Norms are often transmitted by non-verbal behavior, for example with 'dirty looks' when people act outside the norms. They may also be transmitted through stories, rituals and role-model behavior.

Example

A common group norm amongst academics is that dress is casual (with the underlying implication that what goes on in the mind is more important than what goes on the body).

So what?

Using it

Think up a rule. When other people transgress it, frown. When they follow it smile. Before long they’ll get the point and you’ll be smiling all of the time.

Defending

Identify the rules that other people are putting on you as a condition for being in their group. Do you really want to follow these rules? Are there any which are particularly irksome? Can you lead a revolution? Is it really worth putting up with these, or is leaving the group a better option?

See also

Informational Social Influence, Normative Social Influence, Pluralistic Ignorance

References

Kelley (1955), Deutch and Gerard (1955)

Perkins and Berkowitz (1986)

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