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How Do Social Norms Influence Human Behaviour?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Anthropology
Wordcount: 1700 words Published: 30th Sep 2019

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Social norms are referred to as “the informal rules that govern behaviour in groups and societies” They are the accepted behaviours within in a society of how a person should acts and behave in everyday situations and if an individual deters away from these expectancies their behaviour may be deemed as inappropriate. social norms are seen as central to the production of social order or social coordination. They are important to allow society to run smoothly and enhance individuals life. Social norms effect different aspects of living. Anthropologists have described how social norms function in different cultures (Geertz 1973),), and economists have explored how adherence to norms influences market behaviour (Akerlof 1976; Young 1998a) and preventing market failures (Jules Coleman 1989). Presented in this paper will be…

Behaviour in influenced by social norms as individuals want to avoid the consequences that are acquired if they do not comply.

Psychologists believe that we are all subject of social influence. Many of our everyday decisions are under pressure from to conforming to opinions and behaviours to other people. Behaviour which fulfils norm is known as conforming, Conformity is defined as ….  And is driven by social norms. Deutsch and Gerard distinguished between informative and normative conforming motivations known as the dual process theory. Informational influence focuses on the aspect that individuals conform due to the desire to be right in a situation whereas normative influence focuses on the concept of the desire to be socially accepted into the wider group and gain social approval by other members. The dual process theory has a great influence on how individuals behave. One of the most famous pieces of literature regarding conformity was produced by Asch (1956) when he investigated whether people would remain independent of a groups inaccurate judgements in an unambiguous line task, he founded a 36.8% conformity rate to incorrect responses. It was suggested that afterwards that these participants chose incorrectly to gain social approval and avoid being ostracized, they were subject to normative influence. The social norm to conform influenced the behaviour of the individuals as they desired to be socially accepted. However Asch’s work has been criticised for having a limited  generalisability as only American men took part in the study, America has a individualistic culture compared to china s such which is a collectivist culture, Bond and Smith (1996) meta-analysis found  conformity rates in a collectivist country’s opposed to individualistic countries. Research has also suggested that women are more likely to conform compared to men as they have a greater interest in social approval and establishing relationships (Neto 1955). Compiling the literature concerning conforming there seems to be the general high rate of people conforming, this general finding gives reasoning as to how the social norm of wanting to fit in to society has given influenced the individuals in to a conforming behaviour although they were aware that they were deliberately giving a incorrect response. This supports the idea that social norms have a wide influence on behaviours that a person will posses and can act as a predictor in future situations.

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Understanding social norms and the influence on behaviour they impose has been a beneficial gain for businesses and the government, as they can alter their marketing and advertisement appeals with the insight that it will predict the desired market behaviour that they are requiring. Goldstein et al (2008) founded that there was a greater towel reuse when a message displaying descriptive norm informing that other guests were reusing there towels compared to the industry standard message which focused on the environment protection factor across 190 hotels. Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory (1954) is perhaps the reason why the guests chose to reuse their towels as the theory states that people often compare themselves to what others are doing and are motivated to meet that level of go beyond to be perceived as a better person.  This literature validates the power that social norms influence behaviour as there was greater result when the descriptive norm was used. This is strong and useful tool as it will produce a lower cost for the rewashing of towels, also this finding can be used in advertising announcing that they are improving environmental conservation which portrays a positive message to possible future guests. These findings can be widely applied throughout the economic and business industry, by providing evidence that using normative appeals act as a predictor for behaviour and therefore influencing and producing a greater amount of desired market behaviours.

However social norms don’t always influence behaviour, as still there is a rise in aggressive crime and cyberbullying . Such behaviours are not seen by society as the expected appropriate behaviours. The term “Deindividuation” was created by Festinger (1952), and later defined by Fraser and Burchell (2001) “A process whereby normal constraints on behaviour are weakened as persons lose their sense of individuality” it is commonly used to describe aggression within crowd behaviour. Football fans are often to referred as “Hooligans” and associated with group violence and aggression which opposes the social expectancies of that aggression is an inappropriate way to act. Zimbardo (1969) differentiated between the individuated and de-individuated states in regards to conforming, he concluded that when in an individuated state behaviour is rational and normative compared to the de-individuated state where behaviour is irrational, impulsive and social norms are overlooked. The key factor within de-individuation is anonymity, as the individual is unable to be identified there is less fear of retribution. Within the Hooliganism community aggression is seen to be praised rewarded by fellow members and deemed an appropriate way to act. This indicates that social norms exist within groups which don’t persist outside of that group and situation suggesting that social norms have a specific social context where they will influence such behaviours. This concept of anonymity is closely linked to the rise in cyber bullying, Douglas and McGarty (2001) found a strong correlation between anonymity and ‘flaming’ (threatening/hostile messages) within online chatrooms. This indicates that this choice of being unable to be identified leads to social norms and personal restraints to be overlooked as the chance of retribution is decreased significantly. However as only a correlation was found this doesn’t mean causation

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Social norms predict society’s behaviour as whole, however these behaviours and opinions are not consistent and have evolutionised through a process called social change. Social change occurs when a society as a whole adopt a new set of believes opinions and norms for instance women suffrage and gay rights it is a result of minority influence. Moscovici (1980) suggested a conversion theory that determines the success of minority influence it included consistency, sacrifice and group membership. In his study (1969) Moscovici founded that a consistent minority(8.4%) were more likely to persuade the majority in agreeing that a blue slide was in fact green compared to an inconsistent minority (1.3%)in a study concerning a blue and green slide. There are real life examples of social change which the conversion theory can be applied to. The civil rights movement was led by consistent views against apartheid made by Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela (1954 – 1968). Emily Davison (1913) sacrificed her own life whilst fighting for women suffrage by jumping in front of the Kings horse. These real life examples have shown how minority’s influence the majority and bring upon social change in this case equal rights for black citizens and women. Todays social norm of these topics is that there is now equality and this influences behaviour towards such groups which is accepted by society as a whole. Behaviour would have been extremely different towards these minority groups compared to now, as the social norm was entirely different then, This suggests that social norms are malleable throughout time and social change. Therefore suggesting that social norms do have a strong influence on behaviour.


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